Custody in a family court case refers to the physical control over someone and the right to make decisions for that person. Child custody grants parents legal and physical control over a minor child. Custody issues often surface during a separation or divorce but can also arise whenever parents argue about the care of and visitation with a child.

What Types of Custody Do Virginia Family Courts Award?

There are two types of custody – legal custody and physical custody. Each type of custody gives parents different rights. 

Legal custody gives a parent the right to make significant decisions for their child. Examples include decisions related to their education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. 

Physical custody refers to the parent who cares for the child’s daily needs. They ensure that the child has clothing, food, and shelter and decide where the child resides. 

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody in Virginia 

Generally, the courts prefer joint custody to allow both parents equal access to their children. They share the responsibility for the child’s daily needs, and both have the right to make decisions for their child. Joint custody requires parents to co-parent effectively for the arrangement to work well. 

Even if the court grants joint custody in a case, the child usually resides with one parent for continuity and stability. The parent who has the child most of the time is referred to as the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent has liberal visitation with the child. 

Sole custody vests parental rights with one parent. Courts grant sole custody if there is evidence proving it would be in the child’s best interest. For example, a judge may award sole custody if the other party is unfit, abusive, or an alcoholic. 

Courts encourage parents to develop a parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children. The plan should give the children ample access to both parents. If parents cannot agree to a parenting plan and visitation schedule or challenge custody, the court decides the matter.

How Do Judges Decide Child Custody in Fairfax, VA?

Child custody cases are decided based on the child’s best interest according to Virginia laws. Judges examine the evidence in the case. They also consider the factors listed in Virginia Code §20-124.3.

Factors judges consider when deciding child custody cases include:

  • The age of the children
  • The existing relationship between each parent and the children
  • The physical and mental health of the children 
  • The roles the parents have played in the care and raising of the children, including what roles the parents anticipate playing moving forward
  • A child’s needs, including any special needs
  • The relationships that are important to the child, including siblings, grandparents, peers, step-siblings, and extended family members
  • A child’s reasonable preference for which parent they want to live with after the divorce
  • A parent’s ability to co-parent and cooperate to resolve issues and disputes regarding the children
  • The inclination of a parent to support their child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Any history of domestic violence, family abuse, child abuse, or sexual abuse

Judges may also consider any other factors they believe are relevant to deciding what is in the children’s best interest, such as allegations of parental alienation. Even if parents agree to a parenting plan and visitation schedule, it is subject to judicial review to ensure it is in the child’s best interest. 

In disputed custody cases, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child’s interests. Judges don’t investigate child custody disputes. They rely on the evidence presented by the parties.

Therefore, they may appoint a GAL to investigate the issue on behalf of the child. The GAL can interview witnesses and review records to better understand the matters before the court.

A GAL issues a report to the court, and the parents receive a copy. The report may contain recommendations from the GAL. However, this report is only one factor the judge considers when deciding a custody case.

Do I Need a Fairfax Child Custody Lawyer?

Even if your spouse says they want to work out a custody agreement together, it is best for you to have your own attorney in the matter. Your spouse could change their mind and seek sole custody. You do not want to be caught off guard. 

A Fairfax child custody attorney will work to protect your parental rights and your child’s best interest. 

Contact The Child Custody Law Firm of Law Office of Afsana Chowdhury, PLC in Fairfax, VA.

For more information, please contact an experienced Child Custody lawyer at Law Office of Afsana Chowdhury, PLC to schedule a free initial consultation today. Our law office is located in Fairfax, VA.

We proudly serve Fairfax, VA, and its surrounding areas

Law Office of Afsana Chowdhury
10805 Main St STE 700A, Fairfax, VA 22030
(703) 271-6519