Dedicated lawyers protect your parental rights in Northern Virginia

One of the most pressing concerns during and after divorce is child custody. At The Daugherty Law Firm, P.C., our family law attorneys understand how emotionally charged this issue can become. We are adept at negotiating parenting plans that address your concerns, but when necessary, we can litigate aggressively to protect your rights. We understand that all cases are unique, and we work closely with you to provide solutions that meet your needs and those of your children.

Child custody basics in Virginia

Because child custody can be so emotional, it’s important to understand fully how the law treats this issue. Let’s start by defining a few terms that appear in the law:

  • Physical custody — This pertains to the rights and responsibilities associated with providing a residence for the child. Primary physical custody is when the child lives primarily with one parent.  Shared physical custody is when each parent has physical custody of the child for 182 days of the year.
  • Legal custody — This allows a parent the right to make decisions that affect the health and welfare of the child. Parents who are capable of cooperating can share decision-making authority, or the court can grant authority to one parent.
  • Sole versus shared custody — Each type of custody can be held by one parent (sole) or two parents (joint/shared). Courts tend to favor shared custody today whenever feasible.
  • Split custody — When there is more than one child, the children can be split between the parents. This is a rare arrangement, but it can be appropriate if one child has special needs and the parent best able to manage that child would not be able to care for another child without assistance.
  • Visitation — When one parent has primary physical custody, the noncustodial parent generally has a right of visitation or parenting time. When there is no issue about a parent’s fitness, visitation should be frequent and regularly scheduled. However, it is not uncommon during custody disputes for one parent to accuse the other of things that may cause the court to limit their visitation.

Parents can attempt to reach a child custody settlement or parenting plan through negotiations or mediation, often as part of an uncontested divorce or to settle a custody dispute. They can then present the parenting plan to the court. A settlement is preferable, because the parents know their family better than any judge could, and when they negotiate in good faith, they can avoid an adverse ruling.

However, if parents must litigate child custody, it’s important to understand how the court views the issue. Virginia family law requires judges to make decisions based first and foremost on the best interests of the child. To reach their decisions, judges must weigh certain factors, including:

  • The ages of the children
  • The preferences of a child who is mature
  • The relationship of the child with each parent
  • Special needs status, if any

Custody laws favor neither the father nor the mother, but the court often looks favorably on a parent who is likely to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.

Modification of a child custody order in Virginia

Parenting plans aren’t forever. True, they remain in force until a court issues a new order, but they often need to be adjusted as children grow and parents’ lives change. You should expect to revisit your parenting plan every three years or so, or any time a major development occurs. If you negotiate a new parenting plan, you must present it to the court for approval.

If a negotiated modification is not possible, either parent can file a motion asking the court to modify the custody arrangements. This is often the situation when a custodial parent wants to relocate with the child either out of state or at a distance that burdens the other parent’s visitation rights. Again, the court considers the best interest of the child, looking at factors such as:

  • Whether the child already established family ties in one location
  • Whether one location offers better educational opportunities for the child
  • Whether one location provides the child with necessary medical accommodations

To learn more about child custody law in Virginia, we invite you to read the following:

The Daugherty Law Firm stands ready to assist you with all matters related to child custody.

Contact our knowledgeable Manassas lawyers for your child custody disputes

The Daugherty Law Firm, P.C. provides child custody representation that protects your parental rights in Manassas, Warrenton, and the surrounding communities of Virginia. To schedule a consultation, call us at 703-659-2437 or contact our Manassas office online. We are conveniently located at 9315 Center Street, just across the street from the Courthouse in Manassas.