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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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What is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in a Virginia Divorce?


If you are preparing for a divorce in Virginia and you have children, you may be concerned about how custody will be handled. There are two types of custody that your Leesburg divorce attorney will explain when you come in. These are physical and legal custody, which are two very distinct things. Here’s a look at what each type of custody means and what you need to know for your upcoming divorce.

Legal Custody in Virginia

Legal custody deals with who has the power to make important decisions related to your children. When possible, the court prefers to award joint legal custody. This means that both parents would share legal custody and make decisions together regarding topics like education, general upbringing, religion, and more. There is an assumption with joint legal custody that you and your soon-to-be-ex have a good enough relationship to have a civil conversation about these topics.

When there are major problems with one parent, the court may decide to award legal custody to one parent only. This is typically a last resort as the courts prefer that both parents be involved in important decisions.

Physical Custody in Virginia

Physical custody basically refers to where your children will spend their time. The court may grant joint legal custody, but the truth is that your kids will likely spend time mainly with one parent. The other parent will usually have significant parenting time with their kids. Physical custody can be split in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. Some of these circumstances can include factors like where the parents live, where the child goes to school, how old the child is, the parents’ work schedules, and more.

While the court does look at each parent’s needs and desires, the first priority is to decide custody based on what is best for the child. It is the court’s job to be the advocate for the child in a custody dispute. The courts strongly encourage parents to work together to come up with a custody arrangement on their own, rather than leave it up to the judge to decide.

How Parenting Plans Work

Once custody is decided, both parents will need to come up with a parenting plan that dictates how much time your children will spend with the other parent. The parenting plan will cover details like pick-up and drop-off days and times, how holiday schedules will work, where your children will spend important holidays, etc. It should also cover details you might not think about, like communication methods between you and your ex, disciplining, pick-up and drop-offs for extracurricular activities, and more. While the court can make some of these decisions for you, it’s better for everyone if you can decide on a fair parenting plan on your own.

Contact a Virginia Divorce Attorney Today

If you need assistance with a Virginia divorce or custody battle, you need an experienced Leesburg family attorney who can help. Contact Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC today to schedule an initial consultation.


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Governor Northam’s Executive Order 53 provides that businesses that offer professional rather than retail services may remain open. Our firm is continuing to operate to ensure you and your family have advocates available for whatever legal issue you face. For clients who prefer, we can arrange meeting by Zoom or other video-conferencing. We are also implementing internal procedures to provide a safe environment in the office. Please contact us at 703-777-1795 or schedule an appointment today!