Divorcing is never an easy process, regardless of how long the couple has been together. Realizing that a relationship has ended can often be emotional, and having to go through the motions of splitting the life the couple built together can often be a long and frustrating process. Should the couple share children, this process becomes even more tiring and emotionally charged, especially when parents are faced with the prospect of possibly not seeing their child as much as they currently do. When it comes to Virginia child custody cases and other Virginia family law issues, the court system uses the best interests of the child standard as a means to guide its decision and keep the child protected.
How is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?
When a Virginia child custody case enters a courtroom, the judge uses the best interests of the child standard to help determine the best possible arrangement for custody and visitation of any minor child. The court needs to take into account how different custody arrangements might affect the child and work to make as few changes to his or her life as possible as the parents go through the divorce process. The judge also wants to ensure that the child has the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with both parents regardless of the custody agreement ordered.
The court has to take a number of different factors into consideration when making a custody determination, and some of these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Age of the child
- Physical health of the child
- Mental health of the child
- Age of each parent
- Physical health of each parent
- Mental health of each parent
- Each parent’s role in the child’s life
- Whether or not each parent is a positive figure in the child’s life
- Whether each parent can meet the child’s mental, emotional, and developmental needs
- The child’s relationship with siblings
- The child’s relationship with other family members
- The child’s relationship with caregivers
The judge’s goal is to stay within the child’s best interests while also supporting continued and positive contact between the child and both parents. Because of this, the court strongly encourages parents to share responsibility of caring for and raising the child and may award Virginia child custody to both parents (joint custody) or only award custody to one parent (sole custody) based on the factors above and others.
Parenting Plans in Virginia
Before a child custody in Virginia order is given, the judge encourages the parents to work together to create a parenting plan that works for all parties involved and is also within the child’s best interests. In this parenting plan, the couple needs to outline all the details surrounding their proposed Virginia child custody agreement. This includes details like which parent will have custody of the child, when noncustodial parents will have visitation and for how long, how the parents plan to share school vacations, summer vacations, and holidays with the child, as well as special occasions.
Along with outlining the schedule in their parenting plan, parents also need to lay out some additional details. These details include how the parents plan to share medical costs, education costs, the costs for extracurricular activities, as well as the costs for the child’s basic needs including clothing, food and shelter. Parents want to include as much detail in their plan as possible so there are no questions or loopholes when or if the plan becomes their custody order.
Child Custody Modification in Virginia
Once the Virginia child custody arrangement has been ordered, regardless of if the parents created it or the judge ordered it, the custody agreement becomes a legally binding document. Because of this, any changes to the agreement need to be approved through the court system. Since many changes to a child’s schedule can be disruptive to developmental and emotional health, the court tries to limit the number of modifications to only those that are absolutely necessary.
Should a significant change in circumstances occur and both parents agree on the modifications needing to be made to the custody agreement, they can submit their request to the Virginia family court system. When the judge reviews this request, he or she considers many factors before making a decision – generally, if parents agree with no issues and the modifications are in the child’s best interests, the changes are approved.
Should a significant change in circumstances occur and the parents do not agree on the modifications needing to be made, they need the judge to make the determination for them. In most cases, the parent requesting changes carries the burden of proving why the modifications are necessary and that a significant enough change in circumstances has occurred to warrant changes. The other parent has an opportunity to express his or her feelings on the modifications before the judge makes a final ruling.
Custody and Relocation in Virginia
Relocation in terms of Virginia child custody arrangements can often be difficult for parents, the child, and even the judge. While relocation can be an issue for parents with a joint custody, it is most often a problem for parents with a primary custodial parent and a non-custodial parent with only visitation. When the custodial parent wishes to move away with the child, it often means changes to the non-custodial parent’s visitation schedule need to be made – something he or she may not be happy about.
In rare situations when both parents agree to one parent relocating with the child – perhaps if the relocation is not far or if it presents better opportunities for the child – the couple again presents the custody changes needing to be made to the court for approval. Should the judge see the parents agree on the relocation and that the move benefits the child, it is likely approved and made legally binding.
However, in the more common case that parents do not agree, the process becomes more difficult. Again, the parent wishing to relocate needs to prove why the relocation is necessary and that the changes being made to the agreement and visitation schedule are all with the child’s benefit in mind. The judge again reviews the relevant factors before making a decision including how the move will affect the child and how the loss of consistent contact with the non-custodial parent will affect him or her as well.
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