Who you gonna believe, a buncha statistics or your own eyes? Weirdly, it really comes down to that choice when you try to measure your odds (chances) of getting full custody of your children in a Virginia divorce. Why? Because, while fathers are still statistically unlikely to get full custody, the cause may surprise you.

A Buncha Statistics

Folks in the U.S. Census Bureau live and breathe numbers. They checked out statistics for 2013 and said a mere 17.5 percent of custodial parents were fathers; most custodial parents were mothers. Let’s be clear, in 2013:

  • One-sixth, or 17.5 percent, of custodial parents were fathers
  • Five-sixths, or 82.5 percent, of custodial parents were mothers

Sure, 2013 is a while ago, but the landscape has not changed sharply since then. This is where we have to look at the intersection of law and culture. First, the law.

Virginia Law & Custody for Fathers

For a very long time, Virginia divorce law followed what was called “the tender years” doctrine, that tacitly said women were better suited to be caregivers in a child’s tender years. Baloney. Fathers can raise children with all the love, guidance, patience, and support that mothers provide. They can use Dad spit to keep hair down just as effectively as Mom spit once did.

How long did Virginia adhere to “the tender years” doctrine? A 1978 study that mentions the bold changes in the laws, to allow fathers to be considered for custody, refers to 1878 legal rulings in the state. The entrenched views pervaded the commonwealth for more than two centuries, but now we are in the 21st century and the doctrine has faded.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Virginia Circuit Court judge who would apply that doctrine in any divorce case today.

YOU Are the Largest Factor in Determining Child Custody

Look in the mirror. See that guy? He’s the largest single factor in determining child custody in Virginia. How, you ask?

Most men rule themselves out before their divorce ever reaches a Virginia Circuit Court. At property settlement conferences, Virginia men agree in almost knee-jerk capitulation to allowing the children’s mother to have full custody.

Somehow, we embed into our Virginia culture that men are not good parents. Don’t cry pity; we have convinced Virginia’s women they must take responsibility for their children, even if circumstances make that arrangement difficult.

It is the fathers and mothers, not the courts, that are putting their thumbs on the scales of justice. In Virginia, the law states (with our emphasis) in Code of Virginia § 20-124.2:

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 law also tells us that the courts must work in the best interest of the child, not the parents. Because of that, a Circuit Court judge is likely to accept the mutually agreeable decision of the parents, because to countermand that means the judge could be pairing a disgruntled parent with children the parent doesn’t want.

Strategy is Paramount

No good family law attorney will pass judgment on a Virginia man’s decisions regarding custody. If you want to capitulate and give the children’s mother full custody, your attorney will negotiate a fair parenting time schedule. If you want to fight to win full custody, your attorney should bend every effort to make that happen.

But it has to start back at property settlement. Waiting until you get down to the divorce decree in Circuit Court is too late to implement an effective custody strategy.

Do not take yourself off the game table before you even made an opening gambit. Have an overall strategy from the first move:

Separation + Property Settlement Agreement + Divorce = Full Custody

While separating (leading to an uncontested, no-fault divorce), never do or say anything to disqualify yourself as a worthy parent. During property settlement, state your desire to have full custody. At divorce, reaffirm that wish. With hard work, a true heart, and a great family law attorney, you can get full custody.

Your kids win. 

You win. 

Even your ex-wife wins, because she is relieved of that burden that may have been beyond her skills, finances, or time.

Whether you choose to hand your children over to their mother for full custody or fight for joint custody, The Firm For Men stands ready to work in your best interests. Contact us online or telephone us at (757) 383-9184 to speak with a family law attorney. We will zealously defend your rights in separation, property settlement, and divorce.