Child Custody
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Child Custody Lawyers in Northern Virginia

One of the hardest decisions to make in a divorce case is determining arrangements for your children — how important decisions will be made for them in the future and when they will spend time with each parent. Sometimes, these issues are settled through mediation, negotiation, or collaborative divorce, and other times, they are aggressively fought for through divorce litigation in court. Like every family, each case is different. However, in every case, competent representation can put your mind at ease during a very stressful time.

In Northern Virginia child custody cases, the court makes a determination regarding who makes parenting decisions and a schedule for the children based on the best interests of the child. There are many custodial arrangements that can either be agreed upon or ordered by a court. We can help you explore options for you and your family in Fairfax County, Prince William County, and beyond. Call us at 703-222-3333 or use our online contact form.

What is a Parenting Plan in Virginia?

A parenting plan in Northern Virginia is a schedule that lays out the amount of time each parent will have with their child(ren). This schedule can be agreed upon by the parents, or it can be imposed by a judge. A parenting plan specifically describes how parenting time is divided.

Even if a party is the primary custodial parent, he or she is subject to parenting time as outlined in a parenting plan. The specifics of parenting time for your family should be laid out in great detail in the parenting plan before considering the matter of custody and visitation resolved. Anything less could lead to confusion and resentment, with one party potentially filing a petition or motion to modify custody and visitation. One of our family law attorneys can help you iron out the details.

Types of Child Custody in Virginia

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There are two types of custody in northern Virginia: legal custody and physical custody. Parties can either have joint legal custody or sole legal custody and primary physical custody or shared physical custody.

The differences in custody can be described as follows:

  • Legal Custody: This refers to who makes important decisions for the children, such as where they go to school, in what religious tradition they are raised, decisions related to non-emergency medical care, and sometimes, when and where they are allowed to travel outside of the United States.
    • Sole Legal Custody: This is when one parent is granted total authority over decision-making for the child. This is unusual because the court is hesitant to prevent a parent from having a voice in important decisions. Circumstances where this is granted include cases with serious mental illness, untreated drug or alcohol addictions, abusive relationships with domestic violence, or situations where parents have proven they simply cannot communicate with one another.
    • Joint Legal Custody: This is the alternative to sole legal custody and is much more common. With joint legal custody, both parents are given equal authority over important decisions affecting their children’s lives.
  • Physical Custody: Physical custody addresses where the children physically reside. Typically, there is a normal school year schedule and then a holiday and vacation schedule. Weekly schedules vary widely, depending on the ages of the children, what each parent’s involvement has been with the children, and where the parents live in relation to each other and the children’s schools.

Regardless of whether your custodial arrangements are decided by the court or between the parents, issues relating to the children (legal and physical custody, time-sharing, or child support) may be reviewed and modified by the court after a material change in circumstances. This is because the court must always act in the best interests of the child, and those interests may change over time.

How is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?

Child custody in Northern Virginia is determined by a Virginia family law court considering certain factors provided for in the Virginia Code when making a decision as to the best interests of the children. The relevant factors are:

  • The age and health of the child
  •  The age and health of the parents
  • The existing relationship between each parent and child
  • The needs of the child, with consideration given to other important relationships
  • The role each parent has played and will play in the future with the child
  • The propensity of the parent to support and facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • The willingness and ability of the parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child
  • The preference of the child, if the child is of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience
  • History of family abuse
  • Other factors the court deems necessary and proper to consider

Complications That Arise During Child Custody Cases in Virginia

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When dealing with a child custody case, several complications can manifest that could make family law matters more difficult. These are some of the most common complications that our family lawyers may be able to help you navigate with legal counsel and representation.

Intentionally Failing to Return a Child

While a parent may agree to a parenting plan on paper, their feelings could change as the end of their parenting time approaches. There are instances in which parents intentionally fail to return a child to the other parent to prolong their parenting time. Any violation of the parenting plan is a serious issue, and the specific details around a failure to return a child could warrant even more serious issues, such as parental kidnapping.

Limiting Contact

One parent limiting the contact of the other parent in violation of a parenting plan is another problem that could arise. This is why parenting plans need to be precise. If two parents decide to play it by ear or work it out among themselves without a detailed plan, one parent could assume that the other will take a back seat while the other wants an even 50/50 split.

Not Following the Visitation Schedule

Visitation schedules, as laid out in a parenting plan, are essential and must be maintained by both parents. While events can arise that necessitate some changes, this should not be a regular occurrence. If one parent keeps showing up at times that do not correspond with the visitation schedule, problems can manifest as they feel more confident about breaking the rules.

Medical Treatment and Care

A parenting plan can also detail the specific duties of each parent involved in the child’s life, including providing proper medical care. When parents disagree on how medical care should be handled when the child suffers a personal injury or illness, problems can arise. This is why it is important to specify medical care and treatment plans in the parenting plan to help the child get the care he or she needs.

Virginia Child Custody Modification

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to modify your child custody agreement and the overall parenting plan. However, in order to move forward with a modification, the parent must demonstrate that there has been a material change of circumstances and that a modification in the parenting dynamic is in the child’s best interest. Help from a Virginia law firm with years of experience in custody cases may be what you need to demonstrate this.

Ideally, a child custody modification would be arranged for the benefit of everyone involved, much like an uncontested divorce. Reasons for a favorable modification may include a change in one parent’s work schedule or a parent moving to a new location. However, some reasons for modification may be tougher to deal with, so you should consult the child custody lawyers at our law offices before moving forward.

If the needs of the child have changed in a meaningful way, custody will have to reflect these new requirements. For example, a 50/50 split may no longer be favorable if a child needs extra attention after an accident, and one parent cannot dedicate that much time due to their work schedule. Another scenario may be one such that one of the parents develops a condition that prevents them from properly caring for the child. In these family law cases, a new custody arrangement may be necessary.

Get Help From Our Northern Virginia Child Custody Attorneys

Our firm has practiced family law, including custody cases and spousal support cases, for over 40 years throughout northern Virginia, including Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Vienna, Manassas, and Leesburg. Each divorce lawyer from our Northern Virginia family law firm will take the time to get to know your case in detail and guide you through a difficult process every step of the way with legal advice in a collaborative attorney-client relationship. Call us at 703-222-3333 or use our online contact form.

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Written By ShounBach

Since 1975, ShounBach has served the Northern Virginia community. Our team brings over 200 years of combined legal experience and has grown to be one of Virginia’s largest family and estate law firms.

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