Leesburg Child Custody Lawyer
Our Leesburg child custody lawyers believe the most important aspect of family law is issues related to children. Our attorneys not only have families of their own, but have experience in the resources and services available in the local community to fully investigate and effectively litigate child custody matters. Our child custody attorneys have litigated hundreds of cases involving custody and visitation for minor children ranging in age from infancy to late teenage years. We also have extensive experience in handling custody cases where one parent seeks to relocate to another state, cases involving parental alienation and cases involving the custodial rights of grandparents and other persons of interest.
Our Leesburg child custody lawyers can not only assist you in the traditional family law issues involved in all custody cases, but we have experience in dealing with issues in such areas as mental illness/substance abuse, child and teen issues, children with special needs/special education, and school choice and other educational issues. We have an attorney who is formerly a substitute judge in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts deciding custody and visitation case, a professor of mental illness law at a distinguished law school and who formerly served as a judge for hearings to commit mentally ill individuals. Our attorneys also have experience in school choice issues, special education and dealing with local school boards and school personnel. Moreover, our attorneys are trained as and serve as Guardians ad litem for children and have extensive experience in most, if not all, legal matters involving children.
In addition, our attorneys are also experienced in areas of spousal and child physical and/or mental abuse and child sexual abuse cases. Our attorneys have not only aggressively prosecuted cases involving these sensitive issues, but have also represented individuals accused of such actions in family law and criminal cases. Contact our experienced Leesburg child custody attorneys today.
Overview of Custody and Visitation in Virginia
Custody and visitation cases proceed in two different courts in Virginia. If the parents are unmarried, the case is heard by a judge in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. If the parties are married, they have the choice to litigate their custody case in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court or proceed in the Circuit Court as part of a divorce proceeding. It is important to talk to your lawyer about which court is best for your case as it varies from locality to locality.
In Virginia, custody is divided general into two main categories, legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions for a child and physical custody is who the child resides with. Visitation is the amount of time the non-custodial parent spends with the child. Visitation is also sometimes called “parenting time.”
Virginia has different types of custody:
- Joint Legal Custody: This is where both parents have equal right to make decisions regarding the child. This equal right is true regardless of who has physical custody/visitation with the child.
- Sole Legal Custody: This is where one parent has the right to make decisions for the child and the other parent is only entitled to information regarding the child.
- Joint Physical or “Shared” Custody: This is where both parents have at least 90 or more 24-hour periods with the child per year. Sometimes shared custody involves each parent having equal time with the child other times one parent has the majority of the time.
- Sole Physical Custody: This is where one parent has the vast majority of the time and the other parent has 89 or less 24-hour periods per year. The parent with 89 or less 24-hour periods would have their time with the child classified as “visitation” or “parenting time” rather than physical custody.
How Custody and Visitation are Determined
In every case involving custody and visitation of children, a judge, not a jury decides the case. In deciding the case, the Judge is required to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. Neither the mother nor the father is presumed to be a better parent and the Court must ensure that the child has “frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate” and “encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children.” Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.2.
In deciding custody and visitation the judge hears all the evidence from both parents and then considers the evidence in connection with a series of factors in the very important statute, Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.3. These factors include:
- 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 that 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; and
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
After the judge considers the evidence and these factors, he or she must then communicate the custody and visitation ruling to the parents and elaborate on their consideration of the statutory factors. This ensures that parents not only have a ruling, they know the basis for the ruling as well.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
Like most states, Virginia has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This is a law that ensures that judges in other states will recognize and enforce custody and visitation orders from other states. The UCCJEA also helps prevent noncustodial parents from abducting children across state lines. Contact our Leesburg child custody lawyers today for more information or assistance, we can help.