Child Custody and Visitation

Child custody and visitation matters are governed by the “best interests of the child” standard. To help courts determine the best interests of a child, the Code of Virginia sets forth the following enumerated factors that a judge must consider when deciding custody, visitation, or parenting time disputes:

  1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
  2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
  3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
  4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
  5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
  6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
  7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
  8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
  9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
  10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

Custody and visitation issues arise in the context of a divorce, arise between unmarried parties, or even involve disputes between a natural parent or parents and third parties. Courts have the authority to determine legal custody, (the right to make or participate in major decisions related to the child, such as healthcare, education, and discipline); the authority to determine physical custody (with whom the child will reside) which may be sole or shared; and the authority to determine visitation with the child. Courts also have broad power to decide ancillary issues related to custody and visitation, including transportation responsibilities for visitation, the availability of school and health records, and other issues which may be reasonably related to the interests of the child.

The following are some common legal and factual issues related to child custody and visitation:

  • Where should a petition for custody and/or visitation be filed?
  • Do the preferences of the child or children matter for purposes of deciding custody?
  • How are custody and visitation matters handled when one parent lives in a different state?
  • Do grandparents have a right to visitation with grandchildren?
  • Does an award of sole custody terminate the parental rights of the non-custodial parent?
  • Under what circumstances can a prior custody and/or visitation order be changed?
  • How does prior family abuse affect custody and visitation determinations?
  • Does a custodial parent need permission from the court or the other parent to relocate with the child to a different city or state?

To view statutory law relevant to custody and visitation, follow this link to Code Sections.

To view case law relevant to custody and visitation, follow this link to the Case Finder.

To obtain legal advice concerning custody and visitation or other family law issues, please contact Raynor & Farmer, P.C.