When should I file for custody and visitation?

Posted on Oct 3, 2022 by Katie Carter

When, exactly, to file for custody and visitation is going to depend a lot on what your goals are. Are you looking to deal with school enrollment, trying to secure a relocation before the new school year starts, trying to resolve something related to holiday visitation, or something totally different?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to filing for custody and visitation. You might ask yourself whether you really want to file – because, if you already have the upper hand or the majority of the time where custody and visitation is concerned, even if there are issues, you might not want to actually file yourself. You might ask yourself what you want to file – whether you’re filing for divorce, or child support, or custody, visitation, and child support all in one.

The more petitions you file, the more you open the door for your child’s father to file petitions, too. But, of course, if you don’t file enough petitions, you’ll find that the court doesn’t have the authority to do the things that you might want up wanting it to do. You might ask yourself WHERE you should file, whether you’re properly filing in the right city or state, or whether you should file in juvenile or circuit court.

When to file is yet another question, and one that you’re right to ask yourself. When it comes to issues relating to the children, there is a lot of strategy involved in a lot of cases. You may not always have the ability to effectively strategize as much as you might wish (after all, if he has filed already, you may find that all that remains is for you to file your own petitions and respond), but, if you do, you’re right to ask yourself what to file, where to file, and when to file those petitions.

Timing-wise, it can be important to get it right. We often find that people run up against these deadlines, not aware that there even are deadlines, and wind up without being able to resolve their issues on time.

If you wait, for example, until June to file for custody and visitation in the hopes that things will be resolved by the time school starts, you’re almost certain to be disappointed. Likewise, if you wait until October to file because you’re concerned about the holidays, you’re likely to find that NEXT YEAR Thanksgiving and Christmas will be more clearly resolved – but you’re essentially on your own for this year, if you can’t agree!

When to file is pretty important if you have a specific, timing-based objective in mind. And it’s not necessarily easy to tell when you should file, or when is too late, because it’s not like the court tells you what day you need to file by in order to have your case decided before Christmas. That’s not a thing, I’m sorry to say.

The thing is that every single court is different. Juvenile court is different than circuit court, and Newport News is different from Hampton which is different from Norfolk which is different from Virginia Beach which is different from Chesapeake and nothing at all like Suffolk, Isle of Wight, or the Eastern Shore.
Each court’s docket is different. Each court has a different amount of lead time between when a petition is filed, when an initial appearance is scheduled (in juvenile court), and when a trial is set. In circuit court, if it’s a divorce action, you may be able to have pendente lite a little more quickly, but that’s not a guarantee, either – and, anyway, are you sure you want to move the divorce forward, too?

Ultimately, it comes down to a question of strategy. So, what to file, where to file it, and when to file it is a question that, ideally, you’d be working with a divorce and custody attorney to address, because you’re going to want to make sure that it’s the right choice for you, in your unique circumstances, and that you’ve considered the various advantages and disadvantages of any particular course of action.

What do you mean, advantages and disadvantages?

Well, a lot depends on what you have going on right now. Do you have most of the parenting time already? Are you receiving spousal support, or do you have access to marital funds?

If you file in juvenile court, are you aware that your husband can file for divorce in the circuit court and divest jurisdiction from the juvenile court? If you file in juvenile court, are you aware that an appeal to the circuit court is a matter of right – so you could, essentially, do your trial TWICE before a final resolution is reached?

It’s important to understand all the nuances of your decision so that you can make the best choices possible for the sake of yourself, your children, and your case. If it’s both a divorce and a custody case, things are especially complicated, so you’ll definitely want to ask questions to a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney.

If you’re hoping to have custody and visitation resolved by Christmas, well, that’s probably unlikely – since it’s already around the corner! As a general rule, though, if it’s an issue and you’re not going to be able to get into court, I recommend that you document, document, document. Communicate with your soon to be ex in a way that you can produce the conversations for the court, so via text, email, or OurFamilyWizard. Be able to show the way that you managed the holidays – with defenses for your choices, if applicable – because it’ll definitely matter to the way the court determines things.

Keep in mind, too, that compromise is always an option. Even if things are tense now, sometimes working together towards a resolution, no matter how difficult the experience is, can help you come up with an agreement that can carry you forward to a more successful coparenting relationship in the future. If you know, for example, that something specific is important to him or his family, you may want to try to prioritize those plans. By showing him that it matters to you, or that you want your children to experience something that is important to him, you may find that he’s more willing to accommodate those things that are important to you.

For the things that you can’t accommodate – like the fact that you both want to have the children wake up in your home on Christmas morning – I say that it’ll be important to remember that new traditions have to be set now. You won’t get every Christmas from here on out, and you should work to accept it, and to find new ways to celebrate that bring joy to even the holiday seasons where you don’t have the morning of December 25th. Write letters to Santa asking him to deliver to your house on the 26th, for example, or unwrap on Christmas Eve. Find a way to celebrate that works for you and will help make you excited for future Christmas memories. Kids don’t care about a date on a calendar anyway!

Making holiday magic is one of the things that moms are amazing at doing, so put on your thinking cap and come up with some creative solutions. You’ll be glad you did – and you may find that you love your new traditions more than anything else you did before.

Not able to agree? Well, that happens. As much as we like to talk about successful coparenting, the reality is that coparenting doesn’t work for everyone in every situation. Maybe you’re more like ‘parallel parenting’ people. That’s okay, too, as long as you do the best you can to put your children’s needs first.

For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.