Answer: No, at this time there are no presumptions in the law regarding custody. The Virginia courts used to examine cases with young children under the “tender years doctrine” that assumed young children were best cared for by their mother. Virginia courts no longer employ this doctrine. Instead, the courts will make custody and visitation determinations based on the best interest of the child by considering specific statutory factors statutory factors (Va. Code § 20-124.3). In fact, many Virginia family lawyers believe that the courts are becoming more protective of father’s custodial rights to ensure the children have access to both their parents.
Answer: The courts tend to avoid splitting siblings unless there is evidence that the split is in the children’s best interest.
The court has jurisdiction to enter temporary determinations of custody and visitation while awaiting a final hearing. See Virginia Code Section 20-103 (1950, as amended). It is important to realize, however, that various jurisdictions handle temporary custody and visitation hearings differently. Many courts disfavor short hearings on custody and visitation because full evidence cannot be presented. Such hearings are usually reserved to address emergency situations, such as relocation or other significant unilateral actions by one party.
While temporary custody and visitation rulings are not binding at the final hearing, they can have a practical impact. For example, if the children are thriving under the temporary arrangement, the court may be inclined to maintain the status quo.
Answer: No, but it is best for final decisions of the parties to be reduced to a court order for clarity and compliance. If the parents are divorcing in Virginia, their custody issues can be determined through a formal signed agreement. This agreement is then entered into a final order. Parties can retain counsel to negotiate or review agreements and can utilize other services, such as mediation. While custody matters are personal and best decided outside a courtroom, legal services are useful in helping the parties reach a final agreement which can be incorporated into an order.
No. The Virginia courts retain jurisdiction to review and modify all orders of custody and visitation.
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