Is Virginia’s Custody Law Revision a Big Win for Shared Parenting?

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Is Virginia’s Custody Law Revision a Big Win for Shared Parenting?

Even in the age of the internet, ancient wisdom still resonates. Heraclitus of Ephesus1 tells us that the only thing permanent in life is change. If, bracing yourself for a divorce, you educated yourself on family law a just a few years ago, you may be surprised at how the legal landscape has changed since then. Just this past May, Governor Ralph Northam signed into law a revision to existing Virginia Code § 20-124.2, affecting child custody. The new law puts shared custody on a par with sole custody.

Custody Legislation Old vs. New

We start by taking a look at the old wording of § 20-124.2, Court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements:

  1. In determining custody, the court shall give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either. The court shall give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship but may upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served thereby award custody or visitation to any other person with a legitimate interest. The court may award joint custody or sole custody.

Compare that to the new law’s wording and you can immediately see that Virginia courts now have a mandate to consider joint custody. We have added emphasis to help you:

  1. In determining custody, the court shall give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. The court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody, and there shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody. The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either. The court shall give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship but may upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served thereby award custody or visitation to any other person with a legitimate interest. The court may award joint custody or sole custody.

You can read the full text of the law here, but that single sentence elevates joint legal and joint physical custody to parity with sole custody, starting July 1, 2018.

Expert Opinions on the Custody Law Revision

This change is meant to compel Virginia’s Circuit Court judges to recognize the long-established value of joint custody. Only time can tell what effects this change may have on families and on fathers, or if it will be truly considered as put forth in the above text. One thing is for sure though: experts and research repeatedly show that, after divorce, children raised by both parents do better socially, intellectually, and emotionally than those children who are raised by a single parent.

Christian Paasch, chairman of the National Parents Organization in Virginia, has campaigned for several years to achieve this legislative victory. Paasch points out in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “children in sole custody arrangements are at increased risk of such issues as teen suicide, becoming school dropouts, drug use, and behavioral disorders.”

With joint custody, both parents remain very connected to their children, sharing responsibility as equally as practicable. If sharing legal custody, you both are involved in decisions regarding your children’s educational, religious and medical concerns.

Paasch is a strong advocate for, but hardly a lone voice on, the value of shared parenting. Consider the 2014 paper published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,” which concluded, “… shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.”

Or consider the work of Arizona State University’s William V. Fabricius, whose research titled “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data” was published in 2016 by the American Psychological Association.

Fabricius’ work offers “… strong support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time for infants and toddlers, because the benefits associated with overnights also held for parents who initially agreed about overnights as well as for those who disagreed and had the overnight parenting plan imposed over 1 parent’s objections.”

The research reports on this topic almost universally point to happier, healthier children when both parents, after divorce, continue to provide comfort, nurturing and financial support. Joint custody offers all these scaffolds and will, starting July 1, be the norm in Virginia Circuit Courts.

Call the Custody Attorneys for Men

Life brings constant change, some for the good and some not-so-good. When you dial 757-383-9184 to speak to a custody attorney for men at The Firm For Men, you connect to your best source of current, accurate information about Virginia’s laws. Contact us online, and we will help you, too, with advice, court filings, documents and more. No matter the issue — divorce, separation, child custody, spousal support — we are here for Virginia men, and that will not change.

[1] http://https/www.ancient.eu/Heraclitus_of_Ephesos/

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