In Virginia, parents can be awarded joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or a combination of the two. In joint legal custody, the responsibility for the care and supervision of the child is shared equally between the two parents, and both are able to make important decisions regarding the child. Parents can share joint legal custody, even when the primary residence of the child is with one parent.
Parents who do not have physical custody of the child typically have visitation rights with the child. When parents have joint physical custody, both parents have a great deal of continuous contact with the child, and significant periods of physical custody. A joint custody agreement is the parenting charter after divorce, and thus, should be developed with great care. Following are three easy steps to the perfect joint custody agreement.
STEP 1: Review Virginia Legal Guidelines
The joint custody agreement, or parenting plan, contains pertinent data about how you and your ex-spouse will share and assign the myriad of responsibilities required when raising a child. The Virginia court will approve only parenting agreements that are in the best interests of the child. When drafting your parenting plan, know that the court will examine the following factors when deciding what is in the child’s best interest:
- Mental and physical health of all parties involved
- Ages of all parties involved
- Developmental needs of child
- Relationships between child and parent
- Child’s relationship with siblings, extended family members, and peers
- Parental roles in prior upbringing and care of child
- Parental ability to support contact and visitation with other parent
- Parental ability to continue a strong, continuous relationship with child
- Parental ability to collaborate and work out disputes with other parent regarding child
- Child preference
- History of sexual or family abuse
- Other related factors the court deems are significant to determination
STEP 2: Draft the Joint Custody Agreement
A. Declaration of Custody
The written agreement should identify the kind and type of custody each parent is going to have. This includes whether the parents and the courts have agreed that it is in the best interests of the child for one parent to have sole custody, or joint custody in both legal and physical matters of the child. Virginia courts have no presumption of favor for either parent when granting custody. For joint legal custody, both parents have the right to make major decisions for the child. When declaring custody, it is often a good practice to include specific responsibilities of each parent in the decision-making process. For example, both parties may want to make decisions regarding the child’s medical care, but one parent may be in charge of the child’s schooling, or religious guidance. Other issues that involve parental decision-making include:
- Eye care
- Child care
- Automobile use
- After school activities, such as sports
B. Physical Custody and Visitation Schedule
Virginia does not have a standard visitation schedule that will be ordered if the parents are unable to agree on one. The state’s custody and visitation policies encourage both parents to have frequent, continued contact with the child, and a mutual sharing of responsibilities, whenever possible. A physical custody schedule needs to include:
Residential schedules identify where the child will be during the week and on weekends. There are a variety of custody and visitation residential schedules that divorcing couples have opted for, based on their specific circumstances. Schedules can be based on time sharing 50/50, 60/40, 70/30 or so on.
Holiday schedules should be designed so that the child is able to enjoy quality time with both parents and take part in family traditions. Common ways that parents schedule holidays in parenting plans, include:
- Alternating holidays every year
- Dividing the holiday in half so that one part of the day the child is with one parent, and one part they are with the other parent
- Scheduling the holiday twice
- Assigning fixed holidays
There are numerous holidays with special considerations that shouldn’t be forgotten on a parenting plan. These holidays include:
- Child’s birthday
- Parent’s birthday
- Three day weekends
- Mother’s and Father’s Day
- New Year’s Eve and Day
- Fourth of July
- School break and summer break schedules – School and summer breaks allow for different residential schedules because the child is out of school. Depending on the parent’s schedule, time with one parent could be extended, or the summer could be divided in half between both parents.
- Vacation times with each parent
C. Provisions That Work for You
Divorced parents are not limited as to what they can include in their agreement. Additional provisions are often included depending on the respective needs of the child, and the parents. These may include:
- Restrictions or permissions for geographic moves of the custodial parent
- Right of First Refusal
- Specific conditions for contact
D. Schedule of Periodic Agreement Reviews
As children change and develop over time, so should custody agreements. An agreement that works well while the child is in elementary school, will not be the same as those needed for a high schooler. When a parenting plan includes provisions for review, adjustments can be made that keep what works, working, and alters those areas that are no longer sufficient, or accurate.
E. Dispute Resolution
The parenting plan should contain a dispute resolution provision to help couples reach a workable agreement. Many couples identify mediation as a first step, which costs less, and is faster than taking the matter to court.
STEP 3: Contact The Firm for Men’s Custody Attorneys
This is the easiest, and most important step. Once a parenting plan is signed, it becomes a binding court order. Changing it can be difficult. Call our child custody attorneys at The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184 today and protect your rights as a father!