You and your child’s mother decide to part ways. What becomes of your child? Without a court order, you would think you are adrift, unmoored to any child custody laws in Virginia, free to do as you please. Perhaps you and the child’s mother would think you can do what you wish, since you never took the matter to a Virginia Circuit Court. You would be wrong.
Virginia Custody Law Says …
The Commonwealth has been in business long enough to have encountered just about every human misery or joy possible. Issues of child custody are not new ground. Laws exist; specifically, Code of Virginia § 64.2-1700, aptly titled “Natural guardians,” lays out the state’s legal view:
The parents of an unmarried minor child are the joint natural guardians of the person of such child with equal legal powers and legal rights with regard to such child, provided that the parents are living together, are respectively competent to transact their own business, and are not otherwise unsuitable.
So, no court order, no problem! You both have equal rights to child custody. This is, under Virginia Code, joint custody. The law, within § 20-124.2, recognizes three types of court-ordered custody, which would also be the default custody without a court order:
- Joint legal custody — Both parents have the legal right to determine medical, educational and religious decisions for the child
- Joint physical custody — Both parents share custodial responsibilities (housing, feeding, clothing, and caring for the children) equally and as close to 50 percent of the time as possible
- Sole custody — Only one parent provides nearly full-time housing, food, clothes and all parenting care for the child, with the other parent having visitation less than 50 percent of the time
Without the court order, she has no legal claim to say you must take the kids exclusively. You have no legal claim to say she can have them only 25 percent of the time. You both have equal rights to equal time with all the children.
Share and Share Alike: Equal Rights to Custody
This legal clarity matters in both issues large and small in the life of your child. School enrollment, medical records and decisions, religious upbringing and more life events hinge on child custody.
If you and the child’s mother understand that you are not free to do whatever you please with your child, you can work together to design custody and visitation arrangements that support your child(ren).
Why take them out of a school district they have grown accustomed to, one they share with all their friends? Tiny Tommy’s best pals are in the neighborhood. Perhaps, acknowledging that you both have equal rights to custody, you can agree the children will thrive if their lives are largely uninterrupted.
Why change pediatricians or medical specialists? Little Brenda’s braces still need routine care and visits; both of you have to work together to make those visits continue.
This means one of you stays in the family home, and the parting parent sets up a cozy home elsewhere, but close enough to share the kids and responsibilities.
Do You Need a Court Ordered Custody Agreement?
You and the children’s mother may be fine with this default legal existence. You get along well enough to trust each other with joint custody; why go to court at all?
To protect and preserve your rights, and safeguard your children’s financial future, that’s why. Having the court order, having the details of custody spelled out beyond the bare bones, provides far more stability and certainty than just “getting by.”
Sure, you and she are fine in casual conversations and exchanges now. The children are fine with the two-parent, two-houses life now. But what if she decides she wants to move out of state? What if the children have serious medical or legal problems in a few years? What if you change jobs and need to move?
A court-ordered custody arrangement puts the muscle of Virginia’s legal system behind your well-meaning words. Getting a good family law attorney to draft all the details and eventualities into legal wording protects you. It also protects your children.
Let The Firm For Men Spell It Out
A court’s custody order will clearly define who is responsible for what aspect of child-rearing, including financial support. A properly drawn up custody order will spell out everything, including future concerns such as higher education, health insurance, and more. A good family law attorney can also help you avoid an expensive custody battle.
Preserve, protect, and assert your rights as a Virginia father. Ensure custody arrangements are equitable and focus on the needs of your children. Contact the custody attorneys at The Firm For Men today to learn how we can provide the best possible outcomes in any custody case. Or, if you prefer, telephone our offices at 757-383-9184 to speak with an experienced family law attorney right away.