Virginia Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Virginia and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Virginia courts.
In Virginia, you can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
By using the law as a guide, you will be better equipped to create a parenting plan that will not only meet the needs of your child, but will also be more likely to be accepted by the court.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has specific laws pertaining to child custody and visitation which can be found in the Code of Virginia, Title 20, Domestic Relations.
The law provides definitions for the terms used by the court and for the different types of custody. It also details the powers of the court in regard to making a ruling in child custody cases and the criteria the court considers when making a decision.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are two types of custody, and the court may award custody in any combination deemed appropriate for the situation, if the court finds it to be in the best interest of the child (Va. Code § 20-124.1).
Sole custody means that only one parent is responsible for the care and control of the child and has the authority to make decisions concerning the child's welfare and legal issues. Even when one parent has sole custody, the other parent is usually entitled to visit the child.
Joint custody means that both parents share legal custody of the child, and are responsible for the care and control of the child, and shall make joint decisions concerning the child's welfare and other important issues. Parents may share joint legal custody even if the child primarily resides with only one parent. Joint physical custody means both parents share control and custody of the child, but the amount of time the child spends with each parent does not have to be equal.
The state of Virginia has no preference toward joint or sole custody. However, Chapter 20-124.2 encourages parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing the children and states that the child should have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
The state also has no preference in favor of either parent having custody of the children.
The Commonwealth of Virginia does prefer that you should cooperate with the other parent and create a custody agreement that you both support, whenever possible.
The primary concern of Virginia courts in child custody cases is the best interest of the child. The court will examine all factors that are relevant to the health, welfare, and well-being of the child, and will rule according to what would be best for the child (Va. Code § 20-124.2).
The court considers all relevant factors when determining the child's best interest, including:
- The physical and mental health of both parents and the child
- The ages of the parents and of the child
- The past and current care of the child
- Which parent has acted as the child's primary caregiver
- The relationships and bonds the parents have with the child
- Which parent is better able to provide the child with a safe, loving, home environment
- Which parent is better suited to meet all of the child's basic needs
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- If there are any siblings, relatives, or other people in the child's life
- The effect the people of importance in the child's life have on the child
- Whether or not disrupting the current situation would be harmful or beneficial to the child
- Whether or not each parent is capable of having a great relationship with their child
- Whether or not they are willing to help foster a loving relationship between the child and the other parent
- The court may consider and expressed wishes of the child, as long as the child is old enough to voice a mature and educated opinion
- Any other factors that may affect the child, such as a history of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse.
The difference between agreeing and disagreeing on a parenting plan could have a significant impact on your custody arrangement because if you cannot reach an agreement, you lose control over it.
When you are able to work together with the other parent (either on your own or by attending mediation) to create a parenting plan, your submitted plan will be reviewed by the court to ensure it serves the best interests of your child.
If the court finds your proposed parenting plan to be satisfactory, it shall be approved and made a court order that you both must abide by until it is modified or your child reaches adulthood.
If all efforts have been exhausted and you are still unable to reach an agreement, the court will create one for you. The court will make a decision and a ruling based on what the court feels is in the best interest of your child.
This will most likely result in a standard visitation schedule and the same general custodial arrangements that are commonly assigned to people that can work together.
Creating your own parenting plan is the only way to ensure that the specific needs of your child are properly addressed and met.
Since your agreement will serve as a guide to raising your child, it is important to create the plan with careful thought and consideration and a comprehensive parenting plan should:
- State the custody arrangements and designate a primary residence for the child
- Include a child visitation schedule that specifies when the child will spend time with each parent on a regular basis, holidays and special occasions, and for vacations
- Delegate parental responsibilities and decision making authority to either or both parents
- Include a method for modifying the plan should the needs of the child change in the future
- Include a method for dispute resolution
- Include any stipulations or provisions the parents feel are relevant and agree on
Creating a thoroughly detailed parenting plan that establishes rules and addresses the issues in question now will help you prevent future conflict.
The top twenty cities in Virginia (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Arlington, Richmond, Newport News, Hampton, Alexandria, Portsmouth, Roanoke, Suffolk, Lunchburg, Dale City, Reston, Centreville, Annandale, Burke, Chantilly, Danville, Harrisonburg.