Holiday Custody and Visitation

At the root of most custody disputes is fear. The fear that you won’t be able to be the kind of parent you always wished you’d be. The fear that a court order, or a custody agreement, would prevent you from having the kind of relationship with and time with the child that you envisioned, is a scary thought. The fear of spending holidays, birthdays, weekends, without your child close at hand, to celebrate or spend the time in the way you’d prefer. The fear of remarriages, new siblings, or other family changes – your own, or your child’s father’s – changing the family dynamic irrevocably, and potentially for the worse, as time goes on and things change. The fear that your children won’t react well, or will struggle to adapt to the new circumstances.

It’s also scary, in many cases, to face the prospect of spending less time with your child so that your child’s father can have an opportunity – a person who, in many cases, was formerly disinterested or uninvolved, has not shown an ability to care for the child, has never attempted to care for the child alone, or who maybe suffers from a more serious issue, like addiction or mental illness. Even though you recognize the importance of dad’s relationship with the child, actually achieving that relationship in a way that feels manageable over the long term may be difficult.

No matter the age or stage – nursing infants, young toddlers, school aged children, or teenagers – custody and visitation is fraught with difficulty, and you’re only human if you’re wondering how you’re going to manage it all and keep everyone’s best interests at heart.

You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions. The more you understand about how custody and visitation are determined in Virginia, the better position you’ll be in to negotiate an agreement or face the daunting prospect of litigation. The more you understand the best interests of the child factors, how they apply in custody cases, the difference between custody determined as part of a divorce and as a standalone case, how the juvenile and circuit court works, what’s appealable, and how evidence, witnesses, and testimony are handled, the better position you’ll be in to put together the case that allows you to best protect your children.

There’s a lot you need to know, and you’re obviously committed to doing what you can to get that information. It’s important, especially at the beginning of the process, so that you can think critically and strategically, without letting your emotions get the better or you or making any unwitting choices that may ultimately damage your case.

Managing your behavior on social media, not making threats or behaving in a way that would make a judge concerned for your ability to care for the children, and communicating with your child’s father in a way that doesn’t invite criticism are all important parts of the process. Remember, too, that your child’s father is no longer just that – your child’s father – he’s an opposing party. You can’t share the same level of transparency with him that you would have done before, but should hold him at arm’s length, and make sure to follow the three main rules of litigation: document, document, document.

It’s best to document even seemingly inconsequential things – like when he asks you for more time – by asking that these exchanges occur in writing, or by using a coparenting software program like Our Family Wizard. If he doesn’t pick up the children, document it. If you refuse visitation because he smells like alcohol, document it.

Don’t give in to the temptation to be petty, like by refusing to drop off the child’s coat for visitation exchanges. This type of behavior rarely pans out well for either party, but you’ll want to be sure that, if things turn ugly, the judge is reasonably sure that you will prioritize coparenting, even if he doesn’t.

It can seem like rules apply to you that don’t apply to him, but I think that’s always the way it feels when you’re trying to show that you’re above certain displays of misbehavior. It may make things difficult in the short term, but it’s important to remember that custody and visitation is often a long term proposition, with parenting plans modified over time with different material changes in circumstances over the years.

“The best interests of the child” isn’t static; it’s dynamic. It’s constantly changing and evolving, and you’d do well to imagine yourself growing and changing to suit whatever demands their specific ages and stages make on you.

Request a copy of our custody book, attend an upcoming Custody Bootcamp for Moms seminar or a monthly divorce seminar (if your custody case is part of a divorce action), or schedule a confidential one-on-one consultation with one of our experienced Virginia custody attorneys today. You’ll be glad you did.

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