Self Help Custody: DIY Virginia Custody Resources

Posted on Oct 10, 2016 by Katie Carter

Though I think it’s awesome that so many more places are offering resources for people planning on trying to represent themselves on their own, I think the site created by the Virginia Judicial System (though helpful in essentials) is definitely lacking when it comes to providing Virginia women with the information that they need to actually be able to represent themselves in their upcoming custody cases.
You’d think that’d be the whole point of a do it yourself site: to help make it so that people without attorneys can take their cases from start to finish and handle them. Right? Isn’t that what you imagined, when you started asking questions about do it yourself resources in Virginia? (I’m assuming, of course, that you’re asking about do it yourself or self help resources in Virginia since your search somehow has led you here.)
It’s really not that easy, and there aren’t as many resources out there as you’d think. Or, there are things, but they aren’t exactly reliable. Who wants to base their entire custody case off of a nameless, faceless internet source? There’s kind of a lot at stake, you know?
The best resources are up to date, Virginia specific, and written or created by licensed Virginia custody attorneys. That should seem obvious, but somehow I keep hearing horror stories about people who relied on things they found online—to their serious detriment.
I understand that there are lots of women out there who can’t afford to hire attorneys. At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep a roof over your heads and food in your bellies. If doing that is a stretch, there’s no room to pay an attorney. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a real and specific legal need.
To that end, the Virginia Supreme Court recently launched a “self help” website that touts itself as, more or less, a do it yourself site. (Interested in seeing it for yourself? Click here.) Though I think the site leaves a lot to be desired (especially if you were hoping to use it to represent yourself completely from beginning to end), it’s really exciting that more and more places are recognizing the need for resources to allow women to help themselves through these types of cases.
Today, we’re going to talk more about custody cases, what the Virginia Supreme Court is offering, and what else you can do if you’re gearing up to take on your own custody case.

Okay, so, let’s start with the basics, just to make sure we’re on the same page.

What are Custody, Visitation and Support?

When we’re talking about custody, visitation, and support, we’re talking about the parenting time schedule and how rights and responsibilities are allocated between parents.
When we’re talking about custody, we’re talking about legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody has to do with the right to make three types of decisions on behalf of the child: non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, and education. Physical custody, on the other hand, has to do with where the child spends his or her time. The custodial parent (the parent who has the child more) has custody, and the non custodial parent (the parent who has the child less) has visitation, usually specified according to a very specific schedule. Child support, on the other hand, is the money exchanged between parents for the benefit of their minor child(ren).

Which court handles Custody, Vistation and Support?

Most of the time, custody, visitation, and support are handled by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. When there’s also an underlying divorce, though, or when an order of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is appealed, the Circuit Court may handle custody and support.
You can’t have a matter pending in both juvenile and circuit courts. It happens fairly often that one parent will file for custody and visitation, and then the other will go ahead and file for divorce. When that happens, the Juvenile Court is divested of jurisdiction, and the Circuit court will handle the case.
Then, after the divorce is finalized, the Circuit Court will remand the case back to Juvenile Court, and any other issues related to custody, visitation, and support will be handled in Juvenile Court.

What about mediation?

Some families are court ordered to seek mediation before their case is finalized. Others choose to do so in an effort to avoid litigation. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to mediation, but it’s worth considering. (For more information about mediation, including the advantages and disadvantages associated with it, click here.) If you reach an agreement in mediation (or reach an agreement yourselves outside of mediation), it will be finalized in court.

What resources exist to help parents develop a schedule that is in their children’s best interest?

Often, a court will require that both parents take a parenting education class. It’s a little bit like driver’s education; it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it shows the court that you’re taking your responsibilities as a parent seriously. It can also go a long way towards educating you about what the court is looking for in these types of cases (and, consequently, what you need to base your case around).
Need a recommendation for a parenting education class? Give us a call at (757) 425-5200, and were happy to point you in the right direction.

What does the court consider in ordering a custody and visitation plan?

When it comes to custody and visitation, the court bases their opinion on the “best interests of the child” factors. These factors are:

The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

What about when custody and visitation need to be changed or modified?

Once you get an order for custody, visitation, or support, you can only change it if there has been a “material change of circumstances” since the last order. Then, once a material change has been proven, the court will order a change if the evidence shows that a change is in the best interests of the child.

Where should I go to get help with my case?

If you’re facing a custody case, consider attending Custody Bootcamp for Moms. It’s an intense, all day seminar designed to teach Virginia moms what they need to know to represent themselves at the juvenile court level.
The seminar was created and is taught by Kristen Hofheimer and Caitlin Walters who have a ton of experience handling custody cases in Virginia.
For more information, or to find out whether Custody Bootcamp is the answer you’ve been looking for, click here to visit our site and here to request a copy of our free report, “Can I REALLY represent myself in my custody case?”
Custody Bootcamp is the only seminar of its kind, and there’s certainly no similar program for dads! Don’t go to court alone; go to Custody Bootcamp first!
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757 ) 425-5200. We’re here to help.