Doing Away with the Word “Custody”

“Custody” is a loaded word. It is a word that tends to correlate a child with property that two people fight over for ownership. It is also a word that tends to result in an all-or-nothing mentality, often times leaving a negative outlook for the parent who “lost” the custody battle. This type of thinking is a recipe for conflict when it comes to co-parenting after divorce. Some states in the U.S. have opted to remove the word “custody” from the wording in their statutes. Taking its place have been words such as “decision-making” and “parenting time”–words that more directly identify each parent’s role and responsibilities in the child’s life. These words can also create greater flexibility for family courts that may want to grant some parental rights to both parents and other parental rights to just one. For example, one parent might be granted the right to make healthcare decisions while both parents might be granted the right to make other important decisions, such as decisions related to education and religion.

Why isn’t the state of Virginia on board? Not only does new statutory language create a much-needed separation between physical custody and legal custody, it can also help parents change the way they view and respond to child custody and their parental responsibilities. When one parent “loses” in a child custody battle, there is a higher risk of that parent becoming less involved with the child’s life, which could potentially affect payment of child support.

At ShounBach, we have taken the time to talk to legislators and the Virginia Bar Association Family Law Coalition about the possibility of legislation that would do away with the word “custody” in our state’s legal code. While we recognize that this will not solve everyone’s child custody-related problems, it could serve as a major step forward for many families that have been fragmented through divorce. For more information on this topic, read the Virginia Lawyers Weekly article that was written by Northern Virginia Divorce Attorney Albert M. Bonin, our firm’s managing partner. If you are dealing with a child custody matter or any other divorce or family law issue, do not hesitate to contact us.