What Are the Different Types of Custody Arrangements Available Under Virginia Law?
The state of Virginia differentiates between legal and physical custody. The first type of custody available under Virginia law is legal custody, which can be sole or joint. Legal custody is the right to make decisions for your children regarding healthcare, education, and religious upbringing. Most of the time, parents will have joint legal custody, which means that both parents have the right to make these major decisions for their children. If there is a disagreement, they have to discuss with each other before making any major decision (e.g., if little Hannah should have tubes put into her ears or whether little Mark should go to private school).
In some cases, one parent has sole legal custody. This means that only one parent has the right to make major decisions for the children and that parent does not have to consult with anyone else. While sole legal custody to one parent is rare, there are situations where it is appropriate, such as situations where the other parent is unable to make decisions for the children that are in the children’s best interests or the parent is unavailable to make such decisions. This is true in instances where one parent is incarcerated or going through rehab for substance abuse or in instances of child abuse.
The second type of custody is physical custody, which determines where and with whom the child will live. Physical custody can be shared or split, or one parent can have sole or primary physical custody. Shared custody is when both parents have the child for 91 days or more throughout the year, meaning each parent has significant involvement with the child. As long as it works well for the children and is possible and reasonable, the ideal situation usually is for the parties to equally split their time with the children in a shared custody situation. Courts used to have a preference for mothers, which still comes up all the time in consultations with fathers, but (luckily for good dads) that’s no longer the case; the preference has moved toward the shared situation whenever possible.
Primary custody, or sole custody, is when the kids live with one parent most of the time and the other parent has visitation with the children 90 days or less per year.
Split custody is unusual, but it does come up every now and then. Split custody involves multiple children with different schedules rather than the same schedule. In general, judges don’t like to split up siblings, but there are situations where it makes sense. I had one case involving four teenaged children. The parents lived several hours apart, so it wasn’t feasible to move them back and forth very often. It was extremely overwhelming for one parent to have all four children, and the children had different preferences regarding where they wanted to live. Those parents ended up each having two of the children during the school year and then alternated during the breaks with all four together so that the children could be reunited during holidays and summers.
The other aspect we talk about is visitation, or parenting time, which refers to the schedule that the parents follow. There are endless possibilities of parenting time schedules. You can find several examples of calendars online that show when each parent has the children. Parenting time can be as short as a few hours during the week to grab dinner with the kids or as long as a full summer, which is common in long-distance situations. There can be restrictions put into place regarding parenting time. For example, parenting time may be restricted to a particular location, city, or state, or may require supervision by an approved party or service.
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