Virginia Child Custody FAQ

Virginia Child Custody – Frequently Asked Questions

Our clients present us with many questions related to Virginia child custody laws.  Some of these include:

How does a Virginia Court decide custody cases?

What is the difference between legal custody and physical custody?

What is joint custody and what is sole custody?

Are the mother’s child custody rights superior to the father’s?

Are written child custody or parenting agreements valid?

I am the custodial parent. Can I withhold visitation from the non-custodial parent?

My visitation rights are being withheld. What do I need to do to enforce visitation?

What visitation rights do I have as a stepparent or as a former stepmother or stepfather?

What are the grandparents’ custody / visitation rights?

How does family abuse affect child custody arrangements?

How does the relocation of the custodial parent affect child custody?

I am facing criminal charges, but am innocent. How does this situation affect my Virginia child custody case?

How does a Virginia Court decide custody cases? [ Back to top ]

A Virginia court decides child custody according to the “best interests of the child.” There are many factors and circumstances that the court will evaluate when deciding whether to award custody to the mother or to the father. Some important child custody considerations in Virginia include:

• The age of the child • The physical and mental condition of the child • The child’s changing developmental needs • The age and physical and mental condition of each parent • The relationship between each parent and the child • Each parent’s positive involvement with the child’s life • Each parent’s ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child. • Other important relationships of the child, such as siblings and extended family members • Each parent’s role 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 • Whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access or visitation with the child • The ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child • The reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference • Any history of family abuse • Other factors that may be presented to the court to assist the judge to determine the best interests of the child.

Our Virginia child custody attorneys apply their legal knowledge to provide you counsel before, during, and even after your custody case is decided. Consulting with a high-quality Virginia child custody lawyer can make a big difference. As a result of the stress created by divorce or child custody issues, sometimes you may rush into making decisions that may not be in the best interests of your children or in your own best interests. An early initial consultation with our Virginia child custody attorneys will help you make smarter and better decisions always keeping in mind the best interests of your family.

What is the difference between legal custody and physical custody? [ Back to top ]

Legal custody concerns the ability to make medical, educational, and religious decisions involving the children. Physical custody concerns where the children reside. Therefore, parents may have joint legal custody, with one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having visitation.

What is joint custody and what is sole custody? [ Back to top ]

Are the mother’s child custody rights superior to the father’s?

The short answer is no.  Under Virginia law, when deciding a child custody case in Virginia, the judge must base the child custody decision on factors such as gender.  However, the relationship established between each parent and the child is given significant weight.

When one parent stays home with a young child, the court may take the bond established between the parent and the child into consideration when determining child custody.  However, the court must consider all the child custody factors given due weight to each factor.  Some factors may override others.  Obviously if the mother stays home to raise the child, all other things being equal, the mother would have the upper hand in a Virginia child custody dispute.  However, if the mother does not support the relationship of the children with the father (or vice versa), this factor may override any advantage created by the “stay at home” parent advantage.  Similarly, if a parent has a history of illegal drug use, chemical or alcohol dependency, physical or sexual abuse, mental disorder, or other factors, the applicable child custody analysis in Virginia may weigh towards the other parent.

Regardless, child custody decisions involve a careful analysis of the situation and a factoring of the statutory child support factors.  Neither party holds an advantage based solely on gender for the purpose of determining child custody in Virginia.

Are written child custody or parenting agreements valid?

The answer to whether a parenting agreement is valid is not a clear yes or no.  A child custody agreement is interpreted under contract laws… However, the Court is not bound by the parties’ agreement regarding the custody of the children.  The standard for the court to follow when deciding a child custody case in Virginia is the best interests of the child, not the parents’ wishes.  Therefore, a parenting or child custody agreement is generally a binding contract…. so long as the parties can convince the court that the agreement is in the child’s best interests.

Contact a Virginia child custody lawyer.


Virginia (VA) criminal defense, divorce, child custody, reckless driving, dui and federal court attorneyrepresenting clients throughout Virginia. Some of the jurisdictions served include:Henrico County VA, Richmond City, Chesterfield County VA, Hanover County VA, Petersburg County VA, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Hopewell, Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Quantico, Virginia Beach VA, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania VA, Hampton Roads, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, Amelia, Powhatan, Goochland, Louisa, Manassas VA, Woodbridge, Charles City, James City, Gloucester, Tidewater, Portsmouth, Shenandoah, Prince George, Sussex, New Kent, West End of Richmond, Glen Allen, Federal Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond, Alexandria, Norfolk, and Newport News Divisions).

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