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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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How to File for Child Custody in Virginia


Are you facing a child custody battle and worried about losing your children? You are definitely not alone. The idea of potentially losing your children to your ex is a scary scenario. Child custody can take one of two forms, contested or uncontested. In an uncontested matter, both parents would reach an agreement on their own, without the need for court intervention. In a contested child custody case, the parents cannot reach an agreement on custody and visitation, so the case needs a judge to make the decision.

If you are facing a potential custody battle, it’s important to speak with a skilled child custody attorney who can assist. Here is what you need to know about filing for custody in Virginia.

Child Support Custody Filing

You must usually file a child custody petition with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) Court if you are unmarried.  Married persons generally have the ability to file both in JDR and in Circuit Court where divorces are handled. The county where the child last resided for six months consecutively is where you need to file the petition. In the initial hearing, the judge can enter a temporary custody and a visitation order but doesn’t always do so. In all contested matters, the judge will also order all parties to attend a parenting course.

The judge has discretion to appoint an attorney to represent the child’s interests, known as a Guardian ad litem. The Department of Social Services (DSS) may also become involved to do a home studies report in a limited number of cases. A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) may also be appointed to investigate, but that practice is very county-specific and rare in most Virginia localities. 

How Custody is Typically Decided

The judge looks at a variety of factors when deciding on custody. Some of the most important factors can include your role in raising the child and what role you will play in the child’s future. Other factors that can impact the judge’s decision include:

  • What is the age and mental condition of both parents and the child?
  • What are the needs of the child?
  • What is in the best interest of the child?
  • What was the relationship between the parents and child like?
  • Is there any history of abuse or violence in the family?
  • The desire for each parent to cooperate and resolve disputes, support the child, remain in contact with the other parent, and keep a close relationship with the child.

There are a variety of issues that can hurt your chances at custody. Things like a history of illegal drug use or alcohol abuse may come into play. Does one parent have a criminal history or is there any physical impairment or mental condition that could affect him or her from taking care of the child?  Domestic violence can also be a big factor.

Visitation in Virginia

The law does require that a judge ensures frequent contact with both parents. If only one parent gets custody, the judge typically gives the other party visitation rights unless there is a valid reason not to. This means the parent could be subject to supervised visitation if the court deems him or her to be an unfit parent.

Contact a Virginia Family Law Attorney

If you have questions or need assistance with filing for child custody, contact Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.

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