Years ago, it was often assumed by many courts in Virginia and elsewhere that, when parents divorced, the mother was the most suitable parent to receive sole custody of the child, while fathers were relegated to visitation periods on weekends and perhaps one evening a week. This was based on the assumption that the child had a primary attachment to his or her mother. However, courts across the nation are ruling more in favor of shared custody and what meets the best interests of the child.
Under Virginia law, the primary consideration courts will consider when making custody decisions is the child’s best interests. But, unlike some other courts that are moving towards a presumption in favor of shared custody, Virginia law does not have a presumption in favor of any type of custodial situation, whether it is joint physical or sole custody. The same can be said for legal custody.
Instead, what the court will focus on is ensuring that the child has frequent and continuing contact with each of his or her parents. The court encourages the child’s parents to work together with regards to raising their child, although there is no presumption that either parent is the “best” parent.
In some courts in the nation, the court will presume that shared custody is in the best interests of the child, and if a parent believes otherwise, the burden of proof must fall on the parent opposing this presumption. While Virginia does not go so far as to state that shared custody should be the presumption in child custody cases, it does focus on the best interests of the child and does promote co-parenting. Of course, parents facing child custody issues will want to discuss their situation with a professional, so they can better understand their options and rights under Virginia law.