Child Custody

Child custody is generally divided into both legal custody and physical custody, and both are important elements of your parental rights. Each can be addressed as either joint custody or sole custody, and having a better understanding of common child custody arrangements and what your best options are can help you better protect your rights. One of the most important steps you can take in response to a child custody concern is securing the skilled legal guidance of an experienced family law attorney serving Virginia and the DC area early in the process.   

Types of Child Custody

Your child custody arrangements will address both legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Legal custody determines who will be making the major parenting decisions as you move forward, including:

  • Decisions about your children’s healthcare needs
  • Decisions about your children’s education
  • Decisions about your children’s religious education
  • Decisions about your children’s extracurriculars

Physical custody, on the other hand, determines where the child will live. Physical custody will also often include a visitation schedule. Physical custody will also determine the child’s primary residence. Usually, one parent is awarded primary custody. Even if the parents are awarded joint custody, the court will usually assign a primary residence for the child. Primary residence dictates where the child goes to school and receives other county/city services. 

Pros and Cons of Each Type of Custody

Sharing legal custody allows you and your children’s other parent to make decisions together, which helps to ensure you reach balanced decisions that have a broader perspective. The downside to this, however, is that you and your ex will need to reach agreements on important matters regarding your children, which – in the wake of divorce – can be exceptionally challenging.

Parenting Plans

Your parenting plan sets the stage for how you and your ex will effectively co-parent. A parenting plan is a document that addresses matters such as the following:

  • When the children are with one parent or the other, including contingency plans for when scheduling issues arise
  • The legal custody arrangements
  • Child support  

The most effective parenting plans are generally negotiated between parents under the knowledgeable direction of their respective family law attorneys. Parenting plans can be modified by the court when both parents agree to the modification or when there’s been a significant change that warrants the court’s action.

Visitation (Parenting Time)

Visitation (also called Parenting Time) is the time you spend with your child. Regardless of which parent is awarded primary physical custody, the court will set a schedule for visitation. Generally, the court will set a standard visitation schedule. However, parents have much more flexibility when they work together to set a mutually acceptable visitation schedule.

Visitation can range from a very generous amount of time with the kids to a much more sparing allowance. The factors the court takes into consideration when making these determinations include the following:

  • The children’s needs and each parent’s ability to meet them
  • The level of involvement each parent has had in raising the children to date
  • The level of closeness between each parent and the children
  • The degree to which each parent is committed to effectively co-parenting
  • The degree to which each parent is committed to supporting the other’s close relationship with the children

When a family experiences significant changes that affect visitation rights, a modification can be sought.

Child Support

Child support is the payment system that ensures both parents continue supporting their children financially – in relation to each parent’s financial circumstances. While child support is based on a wide range of factors, the most important ones are each parent’s income and the amount of time each spends with the kids.

When the parent with the child support obligation neglects their duty, the court can take action to enforce payment. When either the recipient or the payor experiences a substantial financial change, the court will consider a child support modification.

Best Interests of the Child

When courts make child custody determinations, they’re always based on the children’s best interests. There are some important differences between the way the courts analyze best interests in Virginia and D.C. but in all three jurisdictions, the courts consider factors like the following:

  • The children’s ages, overall health, and developmental stages
  • The children’s needs, including any special needs
  • The role each parent has played in the children’s lives to date
  • The preference of each child who is considered mature enough to voice a reasonable preference

Family Law Issues Related to Child Custody

There are a wide range of child custody concerns that are addressed by family law, including all the following:

  • Co-parenting, which involves both parents cooperating with one another in order to effectively parent their shared children
  • Custody evaluations, which help the court make well-informed custody determinations
  • Mediation, which can help the parents resolve their child custody concerns outside of court
  • Domestic violence and substance abuse concerns, which can play a critical role in the child custody terms of the court orders
  • Relocation, which addresses the matter of a primary custodial parent moving away with the children – in relation to child custody orders
  • Grandparent visitation, which addresses a grandparent’s right to visit their grandchildren post-divorce
  • Paternity, which establishes who a child’s father is when the parents aren’t married at the time of their birth
  • Adoption, which allows someone other than a child’s biological parent to become their legal parent

Consult a Family Law Attorney to Uncover All Your Options

If you’re facing a child custody concern, the compassionate family law attorneys at Bourdon & Tortolero – serving Virginia and the DC area – have the experience, legal insight, and skill you need to protect your rights, and we’re standing by to help. Learn more by contacting or calling us at 703-646-8390 today.

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