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How custody is handled when there is no custody order

Negotiating child custody and visitation arrangements can be a contentious process for couples in Virginia. When they are unable to reach an amicable agreement, judges will award custody based upon what they feel will best serve the child's interests. When no custody order is in place, custody will depend largely on whether or not the parents are married.

Married parents in Virginia are assumed to have joint custody of their children, and married mothers and fathers are entitled to live with their children and make important decisions about how they are raised. If the couple are not married, determining child custody is more complex. Mothers have an established biological relationship with the child, but unmarried fathers seeking custody must first establish paternity.

DNA testing is the preferred method of establishing paternity , but a written statement known as an Acknowledgement of Paternity may also be acceptable if it is signed under oath by both of the child's parents. An AOP declares paternity and states that the child's father is aware of his parental responsibilities. These documents may be offered by hospitals to the parents of newborn babies. Fathers sometimes have no interest in caring for or supporting their children, and mothers in Virginia may also petition the court to establish paternity.

Family law attorneys may seek to avoid the uncertainties of court proceedings by urging their clients to reach an amicable understanding about custody and visitation arrangements. However, they could advocate vigorously on behalf of their clients in court when such efforts prove unsuccessful. Attorneys may also petition the court to have child support or visitation arrangements modified based upon changes in the financial situation of or living arrangements of either parent.

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