When you are separating or divorcing, child custody decisions are among the most challenging decisions you will have to make. After all, property and assets are replaceable, but time with your children is not.
How custody and visitation arrangements are determined
In Virginia, all custody decisions are made in the best interest of the child. Reaching an agreement is usually the preferred outcome because parents should know better than judges what is best for their children. Parents are urged to reach a custody agreement on their own, if possible, in order to craft an arrangement that will work best for the parents and their children. Our experienced Virginia family law attorneys can explain your legal rights and options for custody and parenting arrangements, assist in negotiating an agreement with your spouse, and help you to make wise and informed decisions.
It is important to consider that any arrangement that parties agree upon and truly want to make work, will work.
When parents disagree on custodial/visitation agreements
In many cases, an agreement on custodial arrangements is not possible. When that happens, we will be your advocates in court and put our extensive experience to work for you.
In the Virginia, any legal parent of a child may petition the court for custody of a child regardless of the marital status of the parents, although a father may need to prove paternity in certain instances.
When parents are not able to decide custody issues on their own, the court will make custody decisions based on the best interest of the child. It is almost always in the best interest of the child to have access to both of his or her parents. Usually, the custody arrangement will involve some type of visitation unless there is a compelling reason why one parent should have limited or no access to the children.
In determining the best interests of the child, the court will examine:
- Where the child is currently living
- Who has been responsible for the care of the child for the longest recent period
- Who has been the primary caregiver over the course of the child’s life
- Which parent can provide a more stable environment for the child
- Which parent is retaining possession of the family home
- Which parent has best demonstrated a willingness to put the needs of the child first
- Whether either parent is involved in a new romantic relationship
- Which parent’s employment situation is most stable and/or allows the most time with the child
- Which parent has a consistent plan for caring for the child
- The tendency of each parent to permit contact with the other parent and the extended family
- Who can provide the safest environment for the child
- Who can provide the best physical home environment for the child
- The reasonable preference of a child of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference.
The court will weigh each of these factors in determining the best custodial arrangement. This arrangement might involve joint custody (parents split time with the child), primary custody with visitation, or sole custody.
How 50/50 custody sharing works
It is common for divorcing parents to want to spend as much time with their children as possible. Therefore, if both parents are equally fit to provide a caring and nurturing environment, a shared or joint custody arrangement is an option. When sharing custody, however, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of a 50/50 custody sharing schedule versus providing the child with a primary home base.
When parents share custody of children, as opposed to one parent being the primary custodian, the child may live with each parent 50 percent of the time. For instance, a child may spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent or spend half the week at each parent’s home.
A 50/50 custody arrangement can provide a child with equal access to both parents, which is often beneficial for the child. No parent will have more time than the other and the child can retain an equal relationship with both mom and dad. However, a 50/50 custody arrangement requires a great deal of moving and upheaval for a child and he or she may lack stability or a place to call home.
A 50/50 arrangement may work best in cases where the parents live close to each other and the child is able to easily move from house to house. Parents who opt for a 50/50 arrangement may make the transition easier by switching on a school day so the child is dropped off by one parent and picked up by another. The child should have clothing and other personal items at each house so he or she is not continually packing and unpacking every week.
How primary home base custody works
A home base arrangement, on the other hand, makes one parent’s home the child’s primary home. The child visits the house of the other parent on a regular basis, but less than 50 percent of the time. While this arrangement deprives the child of equal time with each parent, it can provide more stability and permanence in a child’s routine. A home base arrangement may work best for children who are uncomfortable with moving from place to place or in situations where one parent has more time to devote to childcare and meeting the needs of the child. Learning two sets of rules (i.e. bedtime, discipline, chores) can be very difficult on a child.
In either custody arrangement, it is important for parents to pay attention to the needs of their children and remain aware of signs of stress or dissatisfaction with the custody arrangement.
At Nichols Zauzig Sandler P.C., we believe in custody decisions that are in the best interest of your children. We will work with you to devise a custody schedule that allows you access to your children while providing the stable and nurturing environment that your children need.
Getting legal help
To get the legal help you need in a Virginia custody case, contact the experienced Virginia divorce attorneys at Nichols Zauzig Sandler P.C. to schedule a consultation. With three convenient locations in Woodbridge, Manassas and Stafford, we are available to clients throughout Northern Virginia.