A child custody agreement is a document that divorcing parents make regarding the custody, visitation schedules, and decision-making power of their minor children.
The alternative to a custody agreement would be to let the court make all the decisions about custody and visitation.
A custody agreement is different than a property settlement agreement in that it does not settle marital assets or debts, but only covers issues regarding the custody and visitation of minor children. This is valuable if parents are not able to agree on how to split property, but can agree on what is on what is best for their children.
What are the Benefits of a Virginia Child Custody Agreement?
Custody agreements have numerous benefits.
By creating a child custody agreement, you and your spouse have the ability to set a visitation schedule that meets both you and your spouse’s needs. As opposed to having a judge decide what is best for your children, a child custody agreement allows you to tailor the schedule to your individual needs.
Additionally, traditional child custody proceedings can be a long, tiring, and expensive process. By creating your own custody agreement, you can save both time and money in the long run.
What are the Different Types of Custody in Virginia?
Virginia actually recognizes several types of child custody. When filing for custody in Virginia, it is important to understand the distinctions between physical and legal custody, sole and joint custody, and custodial and non-custodial parents.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
Physical custody establishes (1) where the child will live, and (2) which parent has the daily responsibilities of caring for the child. Generally speaking, the person with physical custody holds the responsibility for taking care of the child.
In a similar fashion, the parent with legal custody has the ability to make important decisions about the child’s well-being and future. For example, the parent with legal custody can make decisions about the child’s religious upbringing or medical care.
A parent can be granted both physical and legal custody, and parents will often split the responsibilities between them (i.e. “joint legal custody”).
Sole vs. Joint Custody
Custodial vs. Non-custodial Parents
A custodial parent is the parent who is granted physical and legal custody of the child, while a non-custodial parent is the parent who is not granted physical or legal custody of the child.
What Happens if I am the Non-Custodial Parent?
If you are named the non-custodial parent you will not have the primary responsibility of child care and decision making of your child. However, this does not necessarily mean you will never see your child.
As a non-custodial parent you may still be entitled to visitation rights and other forms of access to the child.
What are Visitation Rights?
Visitation is the right of the non-custodial parent to see and spend time with his or her child. A parent with visitation rights has the ability to spend time with their child based on a visitation plan.
A visitation plan includes when the parent can spend time with their child including but not limited to holidays, weekends, and summer vacations.
What if We Can’t Come To an Agreement?
If you and your spouse cannot reach a child custody agreement about the custody of your child, the court will likely have to intervene. You and your spouse may be ordered to attend mediation in order to work out an agreement.
If mediation is unsuccessful then the court will likely hold a hearing. A judge will then be forced to determine custody.
When determining custody the court will give primary consideration to the best interests of the child.
What Factors does the Court Weigh When Determining Child Custody?
The court will consider the following factors when determining the custody of the child:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, with consideration given to the child’s developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and child, with consideration given to the positive involvement in the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
- The needs of the child, giving consideration to other important relationships of the child such as siblings, peers, and extended family members;
- The role the parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- Any history of family or sexual abuse;
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
Child custody proceedings can be a long, expensive, and tiresome process. A good Virginia child custody agreement has the ability to save divorcing couples time, money, and the headaches and uncertainty of child custody proceedings.
A good Virginia child custody agreement contains custody and visitation arrangements acceptable to both parents. More importantly, a good Virginia child custody agreement serves the best interests of the child.
While a child custody agreement can be prepared without an attorney, hiring an experienced and competent attorney is recommended. Having an attorney can help you anticipate possible issues, and avoid future custody disputes.