Child custody is often the most challenging aspect of divorce litigation for either party and especially for the children themselves. There isn’t necessarily a foolproof method or formula for getting custody of a child, and in large part, the decision is left in the hands of the court. There are, however, a few things you need to understand about child custody and a handful of invaluable tips for getting custody of your children, especially if you’re a father.
1. What is Custody, Who Gets It, and Who Decides? An Overview.
Child custody can be, essentially, divided into two types: legal and physical. Legal custody deals with control of the child, care for them, and decisions about the child’s well-being. On the other hand, physical custody primarily concerns the child’s day-to-day life and living situation. A judge can award sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both parents. Custody should be rewarded based on the child’s best interest, but bias can befall the court’s decision therefore swaying it based on personal vested interests or compelling arguments. Child custody cases often aren’t cookie cutter simple, especially for fathers, and will often vary wildly from city to city. What is common for Virginia Beach courts may not be common for Norfolk, Chesapeake, or other city courts.
2. Where to Start for Child Custody
If existing court orders regarding child custody aren’t already in place, a Petition for Custody must be filed with the court in the jurisdiction where you and your child reside. This is an important action to take soon after divorce litigation commences as showing initial interest in custody can set a precedent in the courtroom. On the other hand, if custody orders already exist, you may need to file a Motion to Amend or a Review Order with the same court the initial custody orders came from. This is where your divorce and child custody attorney can help clear the waters, as the timing and documentation necessary for these motions will be difficult to decipher by yourself.
3. Understanding Sole Child Custody in Virginia
Sole custody would be the obvious goal for any parent as an individual; however, sole custody is often only awarded in circumstances where one party presents an overwhelming case in their favor. Being granted sole custody of a child means you have both physical and legal custody of the child. While you may be granted sole custody, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child’s mother won’t have access to them. In fact, unless a parent is negligent, abusive, or otherwise has their parental rights revoked, your child will likely still have access to their mother via visitation rights.
4. The “Happy” Medium: Joint Custody
While joint custody might make you roll your eyes and give your ex a sideways glance in the courtroom, it may be the “best” decision in the eyes of the court. For some fathers (and some parties of interest), joint custody may actually be considered a victory; however, better arguments from your legal team can help make the case for you to be granted sole custody instead of your ex-wife. Keep in mind also that joint child custody means sharing in the financial and lifestyle decisions of your kid which is considered a victory to many.
5. What About Child Support?
Does joint custody mean we share child support 50/50? Does sole custody put all of the child support on one parent?
All valid questions.
The short answer is that child support is calculated based on a formula which takes into account several factors such as each parent’s income, how many children are involved in the case, child support payments to other marriages, childcare costs (for parents during work), and health insurance, among others. The formula, in large part, is theoretically correct and typically has little room to be contested by either side; however, courts are given discretion to adjust child support numbers up or down depending on individual cases.
In other words, there may or may not be a benefit for child support by being granted sole custody. You and your attorney should pursue the best interests of your child and make sure that his or her needs are taken care of in terms of child support.
6. How You Can Improve Your Chances of Winning Child Custody
There really isn’t any prescriptive way to improve your chances to gain sole custody (or any custody, for that matter) in the eyes of the court. Just because you may be the best parent on paper doesn’t necessarily mean the court will side with that or the arguments you make for yourself.
This is where your attorney comes in. How we articulate your situation with the factors courts consider is what puts you in the best position to be awarded custody!
Consult with a Skilled Custody Attorney
If you’re considering doing it yourself or think you can manage all of the paperwork without spending time in a lawyer’s office, you may be right. But don’t leave your child’s well-being in your own hands! Choose a child custody attorney who has been in the courtroom dogfight—give the team at The Firm for Men a call today at 757-383-9184! We’re located in the heart of Virginia Beach and we’ve been serving the Hampton Roads area for over a decade.