Child Custody and Visitation are often the most contentious and emotional issues in domestic relations cases. Parties who may agree on everything else frequently have difficulty agreeing on what is best for their children. Nevertheless, many parents fall into the trap of waiting until separation has already occurred or is imminent before procuring legal counsel. Unfortunately, the one area where the failure to obtain competent legal advice at an early stage of the process can have the most serious and lasting adverse consequences is child custody. If you are contemplating separation and have children, you should seek the advice of legal counsel immediately.
Child Custody arrangements fall into one of several categories. Sole custody means that one parent retains responsibility for the care and control of the minor child and has sole authority to make important decisions concerning the minor child's care and well-being. Joint custody means that both parties will consult with each other on all major decisions affecting their children's lives. Typically, regardless of whether custody is "sole" or "joint", one parent will have primary physical custody of the children, subject to visitation by the other parent. However, many couples agree to shared physical custody of their children, so that the children spend substantial time living with both parents.
The legal standard for determining disputes involving child custody or visitation is what is in the best interests of the minor child. In making this determination, Virginia Courts will consider the following:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child's changing developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
- 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;
- 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;
- The role which each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- Any history of family abuse.
- Any other factors that the court deems necessary and proper.
Similarly, in the District of Columbia, the Court will consider:
- The wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, if the child is of sufficient age and capacity;
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to the child’s custody;
- The interaction or interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may emotionally or psychologically affect the child’s best interest;
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- Evidence of an intrafamily offense;
- The capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
- The willingness of the parents to share custody;
- The prior involvement of each parent in the child’s life;
- The potential disruption of the child’s social and school life;
- The geographic proximity of the parental homes as this relates to the practical considerations of the child’s residential schedule;
- The demands of parental employment;
- The age and number of children;
- The sincerity of each parent’s request;
- The parent’s ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
- The impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; or Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibilities, and medical assistance; and
- The benefit to the parents.
Child custody proceedings are an emotionally turbulent time in both yours and your families lives. Take some of the stress away and contact the attorneys at Russell W. Ray PLLC, online or by phone (703)-313-9401 for a free case evaluation.