Sometimes treasures hide in plain sight. What was true of Edgar Allen Poe’s Purloined Letter (you can read it courtesy of the University of Virginia)1 held true in the recent discovery of a genuine, multi-million-dollar Auguste Rodin sculpture2 sitting unrecognized for years in the Madison, New Jersey municipal building. The same is true in legal circles; important, valuable information for divorcing Virginia Dads and Moms is hiding in plain sight, at websites maintained by the Virginia Courts. Unlike a Poe detective story, it really is no mystery how Virginia courts decide parenting time, if you know where to look.
Factors Affecting Parenting Time: Virginia Tells All
Virginia’s Access to Justice Commission presents a very readable explanation of the ways Virginia courts are bound by law to decide parenting time. As with most things Virginian, the parameters are set down in the Code of Virginia. Specifically, the Virginia judge must pay attention to a laundry list of factors affecting parenting time in § 20-124.3:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
- The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
- The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
- Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
What does all this mean? If you, as the Dad, are active duty in the military and spend significant time overseas, you cannot expect the court to grant you parenting time on a par with what your ex-spouse gets. The court may order that electronic visitation be part of the parenting plan, but expecting, say, a lively nine-year-old to spend as much face time electronically with Dad as he spends in person with Mom is unrealistic.
If your job (military or otherwise) keeps you close to your Virginia home, the judge should attempt to provide roughly equal parenting time, but that time may not be divvied up in equal measures week by week.
Equal Rights in Parenting Time
Men have equal rights to women regarding parenting time, without regard to traditional assigned gender roles of the past. So if you and your ex-spouse are divorced with an 18-month-old baby still in need of breast milk, you are generally entitled to reasonable accommodations such as pumped breast milk sent with the child. The Code of Virginia does not automatically give preference to the mother for infants and toddlers.
Similarly, simply because you are the Dad does not mean you have to take prolonged parenting time with two sullen and sassy teenage boys while your ex-wife gets more time with the smaller children.
The goal of parenting time is to provide as smooth and continuous a pattern of family relationships as circumstances permit.
Dividing Up Parenting Time
Reasonable efforts will be made to allow both you and your ex-wife to see the children when your schedules permit. Do not expect to hand your children off every other day, for example.
Generally, the judge in a Virginia court expects to see a parenting plan already suggested, either by the two attorneys retained by you and your ex-wife, or by the children’s guardian ad litem. The plan is not final until a judge decrees it so, and even then it can be modified.
What begins as a practical, evenly shared parenting plan may change with changing circumstances:
- You or your ex-wife change jobs and work schedules
- Growing children have different expectations of summer vacation
- Changing finances remove some parenting options (the second vacation home; annual cruises)
- Physical or medical issues prevent you or your ex-wife from capitalizing on the existing parenting time
Protect Your Rights as a Father
Your telephone call to 757-383-9184 puts you in touch with a real family law attorney at The Firm For Men. Our attorneys can answer all your questions about visitation, parenting time, schedules and more. Reach out to us online, or stop by our Virginia Beach office today to schedule your consultation. We’ve been proudly serving all of Hampton Roads for over a decade!