What Virginia Courts consider when awarding custody & the life of a custody hearing
Provides information about the factors the court considers that are elucidated in Va. Code 20-124.3
The Life of a Custody HearingIn order to begin a custody hearing, a petition for custody and/or visitation is filed by a party. Once that petition is filed all of the other involved parties are served with the paperwork and an arraignment is held.
Typically in a contested matter a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for the child will be appointed at the arraignment. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who represents the child's best interests in a custody matter. A GAL will usually want to meet with the children and parents, may conduct a home or school visit or both, and in general will collect information about the child to report back to the court on the trial date. A trial date will have been chosen at the arraignment date.
At trial both parents will be given the opportunity to present their sides of the case. Legal representation is critical at this point in order to ensure that a parent seeking custody and/or visitation can put their best foot forward in front of the court. Witnesses may be called on each sides behalf to provide evidence for the court to make a decision. The GAL may also call witnesses, may write a report for the judge and parties to review, and may ultimately make a recommendation to the court about what it should do based on their investigation.
At the end of this the court is tasked with making a decision which it believes is in the best interests of the child.
Best interests of the child standard, Va. Code 20-124.3A link to the applicable Virginia Code is included at the end of this guide. These are the factors that the court will look at when determining what is in the best interests of the child. Note that this is NOT what is in the best interests of the parent.
One of the things the court will consider is the age of the child. Note that this is commonsense. A child who is an infant may need one parent more than the other simply because of their life stage. Additionally an infant may require the use of additional "baby items" such as car seats, proper bedding, etc. Conversely an older child may have sports that they participate in and the ability of a parent to help facilitate that participation may be considered. An older child is also often capable of voicing an opinion about which parent they may prefer to be with primarily.
The court will also consider a parent's previous involvement with the child and/or the plans for future participation in the child's life. Again, this is commonsense. It is going to be extremely difficult to show that custody and/or visitation should be awarded when a parent has had no previous involvement with the child's life. An experienced child custody attorney will be able to help you put your best foot foward in demonstrating involvement in the child's life.