Major Change in how Virginia Courts Consider Custody Cases
As of July 1, 2018 Virginia House Bill 1351 became law and many parents believe it will make consideration of custody cases more equal. HB 1351 amends Va. Code Section 20-124.2 and requires judges to consider shared custody as part of an overall determination of custody cases. Credit for the passage of the bill goes to Delegate Glenn Davis in Virginia Beach and activist Christian Paasch. Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, PC spoke to both Davis and Paasch recently.
Paasch runs the the Virginia chapter of the National Parents Organization. “The system does need to change,” stated Passch. “This change is coming and has gained momentum. The National Parents Organization has taken an approach across the board, including every kind of sexual orientation, who are tired of the way the system works.”
Davis and Paasch teamed up work on this bill in early November of 2017 and it was introduced in the General Assembly during the 2018 session. Davis noted that there were three main groups that pushed the legislation, the National Parents Organization, the Family Law Coalition and The Family Foundation. According to Davis, “the Family Law Coalition was very instrumental in the drafting of the final language of the bill.” Paasch also noted that The Family Foundation of Virginia was a key player, which is not surprising as the organization has a long history of influence over family-friendly legislation in Virginia.
Simply put, “all (the new law) does is it requires the courts to consider joint custody upfront, right at the beginning,” stated Paasch. “If joint custody is possible let’s do it while we can.” The new law also requires that there is no preference given to either parent when determining the custody of the child, something that has always existed in Virginia but has been viewed skeptically by many custody litigants.
However, it is important to note that shared custody is not defined under Virginia law as automatically equally timesharing for both parents. Rather it is defined as both parents having custody of the child or children at least 90 or more 24 hour periods per year.
Davis and Paasch hope that the new law will encourage parents to find solutions to co-parenting during divorce cases rather than default to ugly, expensive litigation. When asked what he hopes the new law will do, Paasch responded: “(d)ecrease the stress and the fighting that typically, marks custody disputes, for the children and the parents. That is not good for anybody.”
If you are going through a divorce or other case involving custody, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process. Give Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy a call to discuss how the new law and existing Virginia laws impact your case.