Custody Orders in Virginia: Protection against parental kidnapping
If you’re concerned that your child’s father will take your child and refuse to bring her back, you need to get a custody order in place as quickly as possible. Until you have one, it’s virtually impossible to enforce a specific custody and visitation schedule. The problem, of course, is that a parent, who has legal and physical custody of a child (which is presumed since there is nothing filed in any court that says otherwise), has a right to travel with a child. It’s not kidnapping for him to take the child any more than it is kidnapping when you take her.
A custody order a legal document that lays out specifically who has what kind of custody and visitation with a minor child. The order will talk about both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is normally shared between mom and dad, and deals with the right to make decisions regarding (1) non-emergency medical care, (2) religious upbringing, and (3) education. Most judges feel like both parents have an equal right to be considered when these decisions are being made, and it is very, very rare that one parent would have sole legal custody. Physical custody, on the other hand, deals with where the child lives and spends her time. You can have primary physical custody, where one parent has primary responsibility for the child, and the other parent has 89 or fewer days a year of visitation with the child; shared custody, where the non-custodial parent (the parent with less time) has 90 or more days a year of visitation with the child; or split custody, where the parents divide up the children so that one parent has primary physical custody of one child, and the other parent has primary physical custody of another (this is extremely unusual).
Once you have a custody order in place, you can enforce it if your child’s father does something that the order doesn’t allow. If he kidnaps the child, you’ll be able to call local law enforcement and offer up your custody order as proof of your custodial arrangement, and they can take steps to recover the child.
If you don’t have a custody order in place, you’ll have to tread carefully. Obviously, you don’t want to completely deny visitation to your child’s father in the mean time, because that won’t put you in a very good place when you finally get to court. If you’re worried about your child’s father bringing your child back on time, you can always ask that he sign something before he takes the child. It can be very simple, just something that says specifically that he will return the child at a certain time. It doesn’t have the same effect that a custody order would, but it’s at least something that you can show to the police (and, later, to the judge) in the event that things don’t go as planned.
A custody order is really the best form of protection against parental kidnapping. If this is something that you’re concerned about, you should speak to an experienced custody attorney immediately.