An old joke says the second prize in a contest is a two-week vacation in Philadelphia. The first prize is a one-week vacation in Philadelphia. Sometimes the prize is not always what it is cracked up to be. Take custodial care for your children, for example. You want to be a good parent. You want primary custody of them. Have you stopped to consider all the challenges of primary custody?

Clear Terms: Different Types of Custody in Virginia

Before we launch into the oh-so-many challenges of being the primary custodian for your children, you should understand Virginia’s laws on child custody, a topic we frequently review in these pages:

  • Physical custody — With which parent will the child reside all or most of the time? That parent has physical custody and the other parent is the “non-custodial” parent
  • Legal custody — One or both parents are responsible for all legal decisions about the children, such as religious affiliation, medical issues, and schooling
  • Joint custody — Both parents could have equal say in legal matters (joint legal custody), or roughly equal time with the child (joint physical custody), or both joint legal and physical custody
  • Shared custody — A type of joint custody; if the court finds both parents fit and able, the child lives with each parent in nearly equal time allotments, without either parent being considered the “non-custodial” parent
  • Sole custody — One parent alone has physical custody, legal custody, or both, with the other parent being the “non-custodial” parent

The terms “joint custody” and “sole custody” are defined legally and more fully in Code of Virginia § 20-124.1, which you can feel free to quote to the child’s mother or read aloud to the children to help them get to sleep.

So, You’ve Been Awarded Primary Custody

Lucky you! You have been awarded primary custody of your children! Just you! By yourself! Alone! With nobody to turn to at 2:00 a.m. when little Megan has explosive diarrhea and you have a major client presentation at 8:00 a.m.!

So, so great that you have to keep track of Megan’s rapidly changing blouse size, bra size, and shoe size. Isn’t it nice that you can remember Big Brett’s size 14 sneakers in that brand but he wears a 15 if it’s that other brand and Megan likes stripes this week but not vertical stripes and why are there bleach stains on all this laundry?!?!?!

So, so wonderful that you have a beautiful daughter and fine son and six gerbils and a dog and two cats and something floating in the top of the fish tank that someone promised to take care of ever since the Virginia Beach Mount Trashmore summer carnival.

Rewarding but Tough

Many divorce blogs (aimed almost exclusively at women) highlight the great advantages of being the primary custodian of children. You get to help them establish consistent routines, keep in contact with the other parent in carefully scheduled, controlled snippets, and better control their development.

Let’s address some of these so-called “advantages” head-on:

  • Establishing consistent routines — You may have to enjoy an extended march through parenting hell before the rules and regulations of your household sink in
  • Keep in contact with their mother — If she is a stable, grounded, emotionally strong woman, this could be great; or you may be talking them down off major trauma after every parenting time visit
  • Better control their development — Being a good Dad and Mom is hard on any Virginia father, especially with a very few thorny points with one or two daughter issues like puberty, dating, boys, studying, money, grades, cars, clothes, allowance, electronics, homework, friends, hair, movies, dieting, body image,  tattoos,  that particular boy, the mean girls …

The point is: It’s going to be the most rewarding work of your life, but it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Being the primary custodian, the main caregiver and make better-er, is tough work!

Don’t Be Afraid to Call in Help!

For many of the biggest challenges of primary custodial care, there’s an app for that. Take parenting time schedules. Plenty of apps and programs can help you and the children’s mother create parenting time schedules, arrange visitation drop off and pick up, and deal with holidays. As the primary custodial parent, much of that falls to you.

Other areas to reach out and ask for help include tracking child support payments, leaving the state with your children, and providing ample notice to the other parent on medical, educational, and legal matters. Track their doctor visits, prescription costs, tutoring bills; all of it.

Keeping good communication with the children’s mother may not be part of the divorce decree. You may bristle at having to inform her of anything. But letting her know about the trip to Philadelphia (lucky you!) is just a good parenting move.

You have a lot on your mind. Contact The Firm For Men online or by telephoning our Virginia Beach office at 757-383-9184, to allow us to help you. We can work with you on parenting time schedules, child custody issues, and child support. We can get you the help you need.