No parent is favored and both the mother and father have the same rights to the physical and legal custody of a child in Virginia.
After you get a petition issued for child custody in Virginia, you will get a response within several weeks. The judge usually gives a temporary custody and visitation order in the first hearing, and demands that the parents attend a four-hour long parenting class.
Another hearing is set a few months later and a Guardian Ad Litem, an attorney who represents the interests of the child is appointed by the judge. A report prepared by the DSS (Department of Social Services) on the parents and the surroundings of their homes may also be requested by the judge. A CASA Worker (Court Appointed Special Advocate) may also be arranged to carry out an investigation.
After assessing, the judges take into account the child’s best interest after looking at certain factors, such as the age, physical and mental condition of both – the parents and child. They also take the child’s wishes into consideration and it is given substantial weight if the child is above 12 or at an age where he is mature enough to understand the gravity of the situation. In child custody cases, there’s a preference for the parent who played a greater role in the upbringing of the child. Apart from that, there are also certain factors that can affect a child custody petition in a negative way that includes things, like history of alcohol abuse, illegal drug usage, criminal record and impairments.
Unless your parental rights are sacked, your child cannot be kept away from you completely. If you fail to get custody of your child, Virginia law assures that the child gets frequent interaction from both parents. Parents of the child can come to an agreement regarding the visitation, however, if they fail to do so the court would assign the times at which the noncustodial parent can visit the child. The visitation would be supervised by DSS or any adult under certain circumstances for e.g. the visiting parent being able to cause harm to the child.
Once it’s established which parent gets the custody of the child, it can’t be changed unless a substantial change occurred in the circumstances or certain events occurred since the last court order. The Virginia court would not “try to fix something if it’s not broken” and thus, it’s necessary that there is a material change in order for the court to amend a prior order. If there is, you are required to issue a Review Order or Motion to Amend to the court responsible for issuing the last order and the Judge would then issue a new order for child custody.