Generally, a court will grant either sole or joint custody of a child. Sole custody means that one or the other parent receives custody of a child, whereas joint custody means that both parents share custody of a child.
If a Virginia court has never issued a custody order for your child, then both parents have equal possession of the child, regardless of whether the parents are married or not. However, if you are seeking custody of a child, then there are certain requirements you must meet when filing for custody in Virginia.
Who can file for custody in VA?
When filing for custody in Virginia, both parents may seek sole or joint custody of their child. However, if the parents are not married, the father needs to establish paternity of the child. This is normally done through a signed document from both the mother and the father, or through genetic testing.
Additionally, a person with a “legitimate interest” in the child can make a filing for custody in Virginia. A person with a “legitimate interest” may include grandparents, step-parents, blood relatives, and family members, but this can also include anyone else that the court determines has a “legitimate interest” in the child.
However, anyone who has been convicted of having sexual conduct with the child may not seek custody in any circumstance. Other violent crimes factor into the custody process, but these aren’t necessarily going to prevent a parent from obtaining custody, unless there is a history of family abuse.
Where can you file for custody in Virginia?
If the parents of the child are already in a divorce, annulment, or other similar court proceeding in Circuit Court, then custody of the child will be determined in the Circuit Court as part of those proceedings. Otherwise, you should make a filing for custody in Virginia with the Court Services Unit of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Before filing for custody in Virginia with a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, you need to determine which Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to file in. You should file in the county where the child’s “home” is located, which includes where the child has lived for at least six consecutive months before you started filing for custody in Virginia.
How do I file for custody in Virginia courts?
First, you must file a petition for custody with the Court Services Unit in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of your county.
A general outline of a petition may be found here, but you must include in the petition facts that will factor into the judge’s decision.
These factors can include:
- The child’s age, physical condition, and mental condition.
- The parents’ age, physical condition, and mental condition.
- The relationships between the child, parents, siblings, and extended family.
- The needs of the child.
- The role each parent has played and will play in the upbringing and care of the child.
- The willingness of each parent to actively support the child’s contact with the other parent.
- The willingness of each parent to maintain a close relationship with the child.
- The child’s preference.
- Any history of family abuse or sexual abuse.
- Any other factors that the court may think are relevant to the child’s custody.
You will be charged a $25 fee to file this petition. However, if you feel that you cannot afford this fee, you may also file Form DC-606, which may allow you to file without paying the fee if the judge approves it.
This is a filing for custody in Virginia, which also means that it is subject to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Therefore, you must also file this affidavit, which should include information on the child’s present address, the places where that child has lived in the past five years, and with whom that child has lived during the five year period, amongst other things listed on the form.
All of these documents should be signed in the presence of a notary public or a court official. Additionally, if you have hired a lawyer, he or she may sign these forms for you.
After filing for custody in Virginia, you must also make sure that the other parent or guardian of the child receives notice of this filing. Some courts will do this for you, but this is not necessarily the case in every county.
You will need to contact the court house that you filed with in order to determine if you need to provide notice. You may contact the Court Services Unit in the juvenile court of your county to figure this out.
What to expect after filing for custody in VA?
After filing all of these forms and paying the appropriate fee, you will be given a court date and must return to the court house on that date to appear before your assigned judge. In most cases, the judge will ask that the parents or interested parties participate in mediation to see if something can be worked out between the parents.
If mediation produces no fruitful results, or if mediation is not an appropriate path to take, the court will proceed with a custody hearing on any unresolved issue.
Filing for custody can be an emotional experience. There’s a lot of paperwork that has to be put together, and you will need to speak to a judge about any decision that is made regarding best interests of your child.
For that reason, it may be helpful to hire a family law attorney to help you through this process.