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Virginia Child Custody
Child Custody in Virginia

Based on the Code of Virginia, Title 20, Section 20-124.2 and 124.3, when the court determines custody, it assures the child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents when appropriate and in the best interests of the child.

The court determines the primary care of the child based on Virginia code section 20-124.3. The family court, which has jurisdiction over child custody cases, considers all relevant facts surrounding the relationship between the parents and the child. The judge looks at the fitness, financial resources and residence of both parents, and the age, health, gender and preference of the child.

The court's primary purpose in child custody suits is to foster frequent and continuous contact between the child and both parents. Toward that end, the court awards joint custody or sole custody.

Virginia child custody laws strongly support the welfare of the child. Divorcing parents are encouraged to amicably work out the details of their parenting plan. Agreement between parents reflects their willingness and ability to take care of their child's needs while living separately. If dispute over the parenting agreement occurs, the court steps in to resolve issues concerning child support, custody, and visitation rights.

Virginia Child Custody Laws

Virginia child custody laws require consideration of:

  • the child's wishes or preferences as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims;
  • the child's age and mental health, in order for the court to assess his/her developmental needs;
  • the parents' ages and mental conditions;
  • the nature of the parent-child relationship;
  • the parents' familiarity of the child's need and ability to provide for those needs;
  • the parents' future parental role in child rearing;
  • the parents' willingness and ability to allow and maintain a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • the parents' willingness and ability to work together to resolve disputes;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse; and
  • and any other factor that directly affects the welfare of the child.

Best Interests of the Child

As always, the court shall keep in mind that the best interests of the child should be on top, and the primary determining factor. Factors considered in deciding the best interest include:

  • the age, physical, and mental condition of the child;
  • the age, physical, and mental condition of each parent;
  • any history of family abuse;
  • the child's wishes, if the child is of a sufficient age and understanding to express a preference (generally age 12 or older);
  • the role each parent plays in the child's upbringing;
  • the child's needs, including the child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings, and extended family members;
  • each parent's willingness to foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent; and
  • additional important factors determined by the court.

Custody means the physical and legal control and responsibility for a minor child. Physical custody means that the child will live in the residence of the custodial parent. Legal custody means that the custodial parent has the right and responsibility to care for the child, including making decisions regarding the child's educational and medical needs.

Virginia courts have jurisdiction over custody cases if the child lives in the state and at least one parent lives or works in the state, or if the child resided in Virginia within the last 6 months and was only removed from the state because a custodial parent moved out of the state.


In Virginia, a parent who is intending to relocate must give the court and the other parent 30 days notice. The relocating parent must also list the parent's new address, unless the court decides that it is unnecessary.

A parent who wishes to modify the existing custody must show that there was a significant change in circumstances necessary to force a change before the same court that determined the original custody placement. In Virginia, custody agreements are very rarely modified. Virginia code section 20-108 outline grounds for custody modifications. Intentional withholding of a child without just cause may lead to a custody change. Other factors include death of a parent, remarriage, and engaging in criminal activity. Virginia circuit and juvenile and domestic relations courts have jurisdiction over these proceedings.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.

In Virginia, a family court may prevent a parent from obtaining custody or seeking custody if:

  • he or she was convicted of murder, voluntary manslaughter, or a felony attempt;
  • felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury or harm, if the victim was a child of the parent or a child with whom the parent lived with at the time; or
  • felony sexual assault, if the victim was a child of the parent or a child with whom the parent lived with at the time.

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