Is Virginia child custody temporary or permanent?

Getting custody and visitation in place may feel like some kind of medieval torture. Whether you’re able to agree (after a fair amount of negotiation) or whether you ultimately need a judge to render a decision, it’s rarely an easy thing to do. When things go south between you and your child’s father, well, all bets are off. Things that you and he used to agree on (or, at least, things that didn’t stir up a major battle) can suddenly become hot button issues that no one really knows how to handle.

For most people, getting custody and visitation established comes as a huge relief. But can it be changed later? Most moms can’t help but think ahead, past this initial determination, to what might happen in the future. And uncertainty where your kids are concerned is even more disconcerting than regular uncertainty. It can cause anxiety, especially where your child’s father has already proven that he is both unpredictable and volatile.

So, what can happen in the future? Is custody temporary or permanent?

Well, that’s complicated. Technically, an agreement or an order is final – meaning that it is permanent. But, where custody, visitation, and child support are concerned, they’re always modifiable based on a material change in circumstances.

That’s because custody is decided based on the best interests of the child standard, which is a set of ten criteria that the court uses to determine what kind of custodial arrangement is most appropriate. And, the thing about kids is that what’s most appropriate can (and does) change over time.

So, in that sense, it’s temporary.  Until your children turn 18, anyway.  Then you’ve got to figure it out on your own.

How does custody and visitation get changed?

If you’ve experienced a material change in circumstances (which is pretty broadly construed, especially if at least 6 months to a year has elapsed since custody was last determined), you can petition the court for a modification.

Don’t want to go to court? You can also negotiate an agreement with respect to custody and visitation.

It doesn’t matter what you did before – whether you reached an agreement or whether you had to go to court and let the judge decide – you can do the opposite this time around. It’s probably most ideal to get an agreement in place, because it gives you the most flexibility about the specific details, but if you can’t, a judge can always render a decision, too.

What if I like my current custody and visitation arrangement? (Or I really, really hate it?)

Whether you absolutely love or completely detest your custody and visitation arrangement, you’ll want to mind your ps and qs moving forward. You don’t want to hand him ammunition that will make it easier for him to change the current arrangement, or to ask for full custody.

Remember, best interests of the child factors:

1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;

2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;

3. 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;

4. 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;

5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;

6. 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;

7. 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;

8. 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;

9. 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

10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

You’ll want to make sure that you’re following these guidelines, because they’re the exact criteria that the judge WILL be using to determine what’s appropriate in your situation.

So, that means you’ll want to share details, keep open lines of communication, and basically deal as fairly as possible with your child’s father. The last thing you want to do is to make his case EASIER for him to win!

For more information on the best interests of the child factors and how courts decide custody and visitation, request a free copy of our custody book or check out our other free custody resources and reports. Need more information? Our Custody Bootcamp for Moms (LINK) seminar is also a great place to learn about custody and visitation cases, or you can give our office a call at 757-425-5200 to schedule a confidential appointment today.

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