When facing a divorce or the dissolution of a relationship that involves children, you may be wondering how it will affect your role as a parent and asking such questions as:
There is no universal answer to any of these questions. For example, many people assume that mom should have primary custody of the children if she has been the primary caregiver; however, such decision may not be warranted if dad has also been involved and a willing caregiver for the children.
When making a custody and visitation determination in your family’s situation, the court will look at several factors, but is guided by one standard: the best interest of the child.
- Where will the children live?
- Can we share custody?
- What does shared custody mean?
- What does sole custody mean?
- Who will be the primary caregiver for the children?
- How will the children’s schools be decided?
- Will I only get to see my children every other weekend?
- Will I still get to make decisions about my child’s life?
Best Interest of the Child
According to Virginia law, the court is required to give primary consideration to the best interest of the child when making a custody determination and, there is no presumption in favor of either parent.
Rather, the Court considers several factors in making a determination as to what is in the children’s best interest.
Factors Considered when Awarding Custody and Visitation
When making a custody and visitation determination, the court must consider certain factors that the legislature has determined to be important. Virginia law says the court shall consider:
1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, including 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, including 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 Virginia law or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors mentioned in item 6 above; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.