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How child custody is determined in Virginia

When parents have a custody dispute and file a petition, courts determine custody and visitation rights in accordance with the best interests of the child. In making the decision, courts look to a number of factors.

Virginia law instructs judges to begin with the presumption that the child's having frequent and continuing contact with both parents is in the child's best interests. This is a rebuttable presumption, however. A parent may overcome the presumption if they can prove that custody or visitation with the other parent would pose an imminent danger to the child's safety, health or welfare.

The court is able to award either joint custody, in which both parents make major decisions concerning the child and must consult with one another, or sole legal custody, in which one parent is assigned decision-making authority. The court may grant residential custody to one parent with the other having liberal visitation.

Ultimately, custody and visitation can take several different forms in Virginia. People who wish to file a custody case or who are going through a divorce with children may benefit by consulting with a family law attorney. An attorney may be able to help their client reach a custody agreement with the other parent. In some cases, the parents will not be able to reach an agreement. In those cases, an attorney may be able to advocate for their client in court at contested hearings in order to help them try to get custody.

Source: Virginia General Assembly, "§ 20-124.2. Court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements.", October 30, 2014

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