What is appropriate for custody and visitation?

Your child’s age and maturity level helps dictate what kind of custody and visitation schedule would be appropriate. At different points in their development, different schedules will be necessary and, if your child is young, you’ll have to accept the notion that you’ll have to grow, adjust, and change your schedule to suit her.

Keeping your mind open to the possibility of change is a difficult and disconcerting thing for many moms, especially when they separate from their child’s father when the child is very young. If you have a breastfeeding infant or a toddler, what is acceptable in visitation is very different from what is acceptable for a school aged child, a teenager, or a high schooler. Once you get used to a certain pattern of visitation, it can be hard to imagine giving your child’s father more time because it feels like you’re losing so much.

Keep in mind that custody and visitation decisions are based on the best interest of the child standard. There are ten all-important factors that the court must consider when custody cases come before it. These ten factors, from Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 are:

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.

The judge shall communicate to the parties the basis of the decision either orally or in writing. Except in cases of consent orders for custody and visitation, this communication shall set forth the judge's findings regarding the relevant factors set forth in this section. Probably the most important of all these factors, especially when it comes to moms, is factor number 6, the propensity of one parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. It can be incredibly tricky (after all, you broke up with this guy) to actively support and encourage your child’s relationship with her father, but it’s absolutely critical that you do.

If you don’t, you could risk a switch in custody. Keep in mind that I said “a switch,” not that you’ll lose custody. Courts don’t just take children away from otherwise able-bodied, willing parents, even if they’re kind of making a mess of things. You won’t LOSE custody, but the more you resist giving visitation to your child’s father, the greater the likelihood is that you’ll have to share custody with him.

Shared custody is any custodial arrangement where the non-custodial parent has 90 or more overnights with the child per year. It’s a flexible concept, so it could mean anything from 90 nights to 182.5 nights per year (which would be 50/50 custody). Depending on the extent to which you share custody, the child support that you receive (or the child support that you pay, depending on your unique situation) will change.

So what kind of custodial arrangement is appropriate? We’ll talk more about possible custodial arrangements on Friday, so stay tuned.

To talk to us about your unique situation, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200 to find out about our free and low cost resources, or to schedule a confidential one hour appointment with one of our Virginia custody attorneys.

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