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Types of Custody Arrangements

By June 26, 2024Custody

Custody disputes are often one of the most emotional and complex aspects of the divorce process. At Slovensky Law, we understand how crucial it is to secure a custody arrangement that serves your child’s best interests. Whether you’re navigating your first custody case or have prior experience, this guide will help you understand the various types of child custody arrangements available in Virginia.

Forms of Custody Arrangements in Virginia

Legal vs. Physical Custody

In Virginia, child custody can be categorized into two main types: legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions regarding the child’s welfare, such as those involving education, religion, and medical care. Physical custody, on the other hand, determines where the child lives on a day-to-day basis. Both types of custody can be awarded jointly or solely, depending on what the court deems to be in the best interests of the child.

Joint Custody

Joint Legal Custody: 

In a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents share the responsibility of making major decisions about their child’s life. This means that regardless of where the child lives, both parents must collaborate and agree on important issues such as schooling, health care, and extracurricular activities. This form of custody is often preferred because it encourages both parents to remain actively involved in their child’s upbringing.

Joint Physical Custody: 

Joint physical custody means that the child spends significant time living with both parents. This does not necessarily mean an exact 50-50 split, but it ensures that the child has a substantial amount of time with each parent. Common arrangements might include alternating weeks or splitting weekends and weekdays. Joint physical custody is designed to allow the child to maintain strong relationships with both parents.

Sole Custody

Sole Legal Custody: 

When one parent is awarded sole legal custody, they have the exclusive right to make major decisions about the child’s welfare. This includes decisions about education, health care, and religious upbringing. This form of custody is less common and typically awarded in situations where the court finds that the other parent is unfit to participate in decision-making.

Sole Physical Custody: 

Sole physical custody means that the child lives primarily with one parent, who is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. The non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights, allowing them to spend time with the child regularly, but the child’s primary residence is with the custodial parent. This arrangement is often chosen when one parent is better suited to provide a stable home environment.

Other Forms of Child Custody in Virginia

Shared Custody

Shared custody refers specifically to the physical aspect of custody. In this arrangement, the non-custodial parent has the child for at least 91 days out of the year. This impacts how child support is based, as both parents are recognized for their time spent with the child. Shared custody arrangements can vary widely and are tailored to fit the needs of the family.

Bird’s Nest Custody

Bird’s nest custody, also known as nesting, is a unique arrangement where the children remain in one home, and the parents alternate living in that home with them. This allows the children to have a stable environment and reduces the stress of moving between two households. Parents typically maintain a separate residence where they stay when it is not their turn to be with the children.

Split Custody

Split custody occurs when there are two or more children, and each parent has primary physical custody of one or more children. This arrangement is less common and usually happens when it aligns with the children’s best interests, such as accommodating specific needs or preferences.

Third-Party Custody

In certain situations, custody might be awarded to a third party, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or another non-parent family member. This type of custody is considered when neither parent is capable of providing a safe and stable environment for the child.

How Courts Decide Custody Cases

In Virginia, child custody and visitation decisions are made based on the best interests of the child. The juvenile and domestic relations district court considers several factors to determine the most suitable arrangement, including:

  • The age and physical and mental health of the child
  • Each parent’s age and physical and mental health
  • The relationship between each parent and the child, focusing on positive involvement and the ability to meet the child’s needs
  • The child’s needs, including relationships with siblings, peers, and extended family
  • The role each parent has played in the child’s upbringing
  • The willingness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Each parent’s ability to cooperate and resolve disputes regarding the child
  • The child’s reasonable preference, if they are of sufficient age and understanding
  • Any history of family or child abuse, or any violent acts or threats

The court does not favor one parent over the other based on gender. Instead, it evaluates these factors to make an independent decision that prioritizes the child’s well-being.

Creating and Modifying Custody Agreements

Custody Agreements

One of the best ways to resolve a custody case is for the parents to create a mutually agreeable plan. If both parents can communicate and agree on custody and visitation details, such as legal and physical custody and parenting time, the court will usually approve the agreement if it serves the child’s best interests. Mediation can be an effective tool to help parents reach an agreement without the need for a prolonged court battle.

Supervised Visits

In cases where a parent poses a risk to the child’s well-being, the court may order supervised visitation. This allows the parent to spend time with the child under the supervision of a trained third party, ensuring the child’s safety while maintaining the parent-child relationship.

Modifying Custody Orders

Custody orders can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances. For example, changes in the child’s needs, a parent’s relocation, or changes in a parent’s lifestyle or ability to care for the child can all prompt a modification request. The parent seeking the change must demonstrate that the modification is in the best interests of the child.

Helping Parents Navigate the Family Law Process

Understanding the various forms of child custody in Virginia can help parents navigate the complex process of custody and visitation. At Slovensky Law, we are dedicated to helping families find the best solutions for their unique situations. By prioritizing the best interests of the child and fostering cooperation between parents, we aim to create stable and supportive environments for children during and after custody disputes.

If you have questions about your child custody case or need assistance with a custody arrangement, contact Slovensky Law today. Our experienced family law attorneys are here to provide the guidance and support you need.

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