The most heartbreaking issue in many divorces is determining the custody arrangements for the children. Divorce is rarely perfectly amicable. Couples don’t often part ways without some feelings of anger and fear. Children, often considered the most precious asset of a union, can trigger battles that leave painful and enduring scars on all parties involved, especially the children.
Many men find that while splitting from their spouse is painful, the thought of separating from their kids is excruciating. Historically, following a divorce, there was an ongoing premise that children should stay with the mother, and while the times are changing, to this day, mothers still tend to get custody more often than men. Virginia is one of the many states that has passed laws affirming that custody should be awarded “in the best interests of the child” and courts are no longer allowed to give preference to either women or men. If you are a father fighting for custody in Virginia, there are several dos, and some definite don’ts that will help you prevail in your case.
1. Become Familiar with the Procedures Used by Virginia Courts in Deciding Custody and Visitation Cases
In deciding custody and visitation, Virginia courts have considerable discretion in determining what is in the best interests of the child, if, it is supported by statutory factors and the specific circumstances and evidence that are present in the case. Judges tend to be substantially influenced by the Virginia’s “best interests” guidelines contained in Virginia Code § 20-124.3, which includes the following considerations:
- Child’s age, physical and mental condition, and changing developmental needs
- Each parent’s age, and physical and mental condition
- The relationship between parent and child, such as, positive involvement, and accurate knowledge of the child’s emotional, intellectual and physical needs
- The child’s needs as it relates to other significant relationships, including siblings, extended family members, and peers
- Past and future parental roles involved in the care and raising of the child
- Parental willingness and support of child’s involvement and contact with the other parent
- Parental willingness to sustain a close relationship with the child, and cooperate in dispute resolutions where the child is involved
- Child preference if child is of an age to understand and express a preference
- Any history of sexual abuse
- Any factors deemed necessary for consideration
2. Understand Legal Custody and Visitation Terms
Understanding the legal terms for custody cases is essential in determining your future role in your child’s life. The following five legal terms are descriptive of typical custody cases:
- Legal custody gives the parent the authority to make decisions regarding the care and control of the child
- Joint legal custody is the term used when both parents have legal custody
- Sole legal custody describes the situation when only one parent has legal custody
- Physical custody refers to where the child lives, and involves their day-to-day care and supervision
- Primary physical custody gives one parent the right to have physical custody of the child at all times, unless the other parent is engaged in their visitation rights
3. Participate in Child Rearing
Parents that are the most highly involved with the children on a day-to-day basis, often have an edge in custody disputes. Men need to demonstrate to the court that raising the children is of high concern to them, even while they are fully providing for the child. Meal times, transportation, bathing, dressing, and helping with homework are all considerations when considering the “best interest” for custody arrangements.
4. Know Your Child’s Schedule
Custodial parents must be intimately familiar with a child’s daily routine, school activities, school conferences, athletic activities, and other engagements. Fathers seeking custody must know who their child’s friends are, the names of the teachers, and their doctors.
5. Support a Healthy Relationship between Your Children and Their Mother
Avoid being hostile and disrespectful toward your spouse, particularly in front of the children. A father found guilty of trying to destroy the mother/child relationship, or refusing to allow contact, could sabotage his custody case. In almost all cases, the court will determine the better parent is the one that is able to promote the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents
1. Abuse Drugs or Alcohol
When you are engaged in a custody dispute, even casual use of drugs or alcohol could be construed as a problem, and damage your case. These allegations are taken very seriously by the court, and if a problem is indicated, treatment may be required before any chance of custody would be considered.
2. Leave Damaging Evidence
Damaging evidence, including disparaging, embarrassing, or obscene material can be used in court to damage your case. Technology has irredeemably damaged many a custody case because of negative information found on social media sites, such as Facebook, or contained in emails, text messages, and photographs.
3. Ignore Courtroom Etiquette
Courtroom hearings are sober affairs and should be treated accordingly. Don’t dress like you are going to the beach. A hearing is not the place to express your anger at your spouse, at the judge, or the system. A hearing is the place where it could all go wrong for you if you are not able to behave in a respectable and dignified fashion to all individuals who are concerned with your case.
Do: Get Legal Help
If you are a Virginia father serious about getting custody of your kids, contact The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184. They are thoroughly versed in family law, and fully aware of the disadvantages that men often face in the court systems today.