Child custody cases can become legal nightmares, as in the case of Virginia’s own Lisa Miller, who fled the country with her daughter more than 10 years ago, supposedly on the advice of her counsel at the time. You can avoid upending your life, your ex’s life, and the lives of your children with a piece of paper, the consent order. Your child custody and parenting time issues can be resolved without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

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The Two Courts

Virginia’s Circuit Courts oversee divorces. Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts (J&DR) oversee issues relating to children. If your parenting time schedule and child custody arrangements have been incorporated into a separation agreement, you may never see the inside of a J&DR court.

But if you and your child’s mother have any conflicts about child custody or visitation, you and your family law attorney will file your petition with a J&DR court.

J&DR courts are district, not circuit, courts. J&DR courts have no jury trials and are not “courts of record,” unlike the Virginia Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Courts. A J&DR court can accept a fully endorsed consent order — rather than hold a hearing — regarding child custody and parenting time schedules.

Using a consent order streamlines the process of determining child custody and visitation details. While sometimes these details are put into a separation agreement, a consent order achieves the same goals and is an available option for those who may not have been married.

Details necessary for a complete consent order:

  • Which of the various forms of custody you and your spouse agree to — joint or sole physical custody, joint or sole legal custody, or any of the permutations of joint custody (bird’s nesting, shared, split, and so on)
  • Parenting time schedule — This should be as detailed as possible to include holidays, family occasions, birthdays, school holidays, planned vacations, and emergency support (first right of refusal, relatives, and extended family members who can serve as caregivers)
  • Good-faith efforts to provide the children with ample communication and contact with the non-custodial parent, in adherence with Code of Virginia § 20-124.3
  • Parental access to vital records, including medical information, school records, and religious particulars — Even if the non-custodial parent is not the legal custodian, sharing current information generally is beneficial to everyone
  • Child support — While definitely adhering to guidelines found in Virginia law, both parents need to demonstrate their readiness to provide financial support for their kids
  • Child care — The consent order can include particulars about pickup and drop off procedures, adults permitted to sign for a child, and payment for child care services
  • Medical and extracurricular activity costs — A detailed consent order can stipulate which parent’s health insurance covers the children, who pays for medical needs insurance does not cover, and how extracurricular expenses will be paid

Additional details can also be included in a consent order, dealing with situations that naturally arise from the constancy of change in people’s lives:

  • Travel plans — From out-of-state vacations to updating passports (kids under 16 need them every five years), divide the labor equitably; consider other travel concerns like paying for driver education courses, buying Junior’s first car, and travel to other countries
  • Romance — At some moment, you and your ex will seek out romantic partners; how will you break this news to your children, how will you handle overnight guests, and how will you deal with conflicts when your children express their unhappiness over the new partners?

If a consent order can so easily be cobbled together and tossed at a clerk in the J&DR court, anyone can do it, right?

Wrong. The properly written consent order you and your ex need to ensure tranquil times during separation and divorce needs to be prepared by an experienced family law attorney. Not only do you need the correct legal phrasing and references to Code, you need to make certain nothing is left out.

Revisiting a petition is possible, but trained, dedicated lawyers can get it right the first time. A well-crafted consent order can prevent either spouse from trying to find loopholes and weaknesses. It can help children deal with the upset and turmoil of separation and divorce.

Working with attorneys also gives both parents the opportunity to better understand the entire process of separation and divorce. For example (and mulling over Lisa Miller’s unusual argument), competent Virginia attorneys will never recommend fleeing the country with your kids.

The Firm For Men stands ready to help Virginia’s men in all aspects of family law. We can craft a consent order, petition the J&DR court on your behalf, and work with your ex’s attorney to negotiate all areas of the order. Contact us today or telephone us at (757) 383-9184 to speak with one of our experienced, compassionate lawyers.