Many people think of the term “child custody” as referring to just which parent lives with the child. In fact, Virginia law recognizes child custody as encompassing much more, including the rights of noncustodial parents to visitation with their children and to have a say in important decisions about their children’s upbringing.
Child custody is divided into two main categories: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives and to each parent’s rights to visit the child. Legal custody refers to each parent’s rights to make important decisions about the child, such as those about education and health.
Most child custody arrangements, whether ordered by the court or agreed upon by the parents, fall under the category of joint custody. This means both joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Obviously, there can be a lot of variation from case to case when it comes to decisions like how many nights a month does the child stay with each parent, who gets the kids on weekends, who will drop off or pick up the kids from school, and other logistical issues.
Parents typically settle these questions themselves through negotiation. Mediation can also be a good way to settle these issues, and Virginia courts encourage the use of mediation in child custody cases.
Visitation, also known as parenting time, applies even in cases where the child lives with one parent full time. A noncustodial parent has the right to frequent and continuous contact with their child, unless a court determines it would not be in the child’s best interests — for instance, if the parent was convicted of abusing the child.
In fact, courts decide all child custody decisions based on their determination of the best interests of the child. When developing a child custody and parenting time plan, it’s a good idea to speak with a skilled family law attorney about creating a plan that respects the rights of the parents and protects the child’s best interests.