child in front of fighting parents

4 Things You Need to Know About Child Custody in Virginia

While divorce may seem like a complex process for everyone involved, it is always the children of divorce most heavily impacted. For this reason, the Virginia courts take the court process of custody very seriously.

This blog will explore the most critical elements of custody in Virginia, such as the different types and how it is determined. Keep reading to learn essential pieces of information about custody in Virginia.

Types of Custody

In Virginia, there are two primary types of custody. These types are sole and joint custody. However, in the state of Virginia, joint custody is much more common. The primary difference between these two types of custody is who parents the child. We will explain more about these types of custody below.

Sole Custody

When the courts rule sole custody, that means a single parent assumes all developmental responsibilities of the child. They make all decisions regarding the child’s life because they have assumed the primary responsibility. This is not a typical Virginia court ruling, as it can be highly disruptive to the child.

The following situations warrant sole custody:

  • One parent has restricted access to the child
  • One parent has or is currently abusing the child
  • One parent completely alienates or ignores the other
  • Both parents cannot communicate with each other

Even if the parents don’t get along fully, the courts will still order joint custody, especially if that is best for the child.

Joint Custody

If both parents stay responsible for the development of the child, that is known as joint custody. However, within this type of custody, there are three distinctions from the courts. There is joint legal and physical custody, as well as a combination of the two.

  • Joint legal custody: While the child may live with one primary parent, both parents communicate and make decisions together.
  • Joint physical custody: The child splits time between their parents depending on their schedules.
  • Somewhere in the middle: The courts will often order a combination of these custody types, keeping the child’s best interest in mind.

How the Courts Determine Custody

Determining custody doesn’t have to be a painful process. If the parents can communicate with each other and create a thorough plan, the courts will often sign off on it. However, the courts must always keep the child’s best interests in mind. To figure out what’s best, the judge will consider:

  • What role the parents play in the child’s life
  • What the child needs, wants, and prefers from their family
  • The age, physical and mental well-being of the child
  • The age, physical and psychological status of the parents
  • The desire for the parents to remain in each child’s life
  • Any present or past child abuse in the family

This list is not exhaustive, as each case presents unique needs. Judges want to make as few changes as possible in the child’s life, for example, trying to keep them in the same school or house. So the courts may deem it necessary to explore further to make the best decision for the child.


When the courts make a decision, a visitation schedule is also determined. When parents are communicative, they often choose these schedules themselves. This communication allows the family to tailor visitation around their lives. However, if they need assistance in this process, an external party can decide visitation schedules.

In Virginia, the custody law requires contact with both parents for the child, as long as it remains in their best interest. However, sometimes it is not in the best interest of the child. In these situations, the courts will occasionally order supervised visitation.

Modifying Custody Orders

As a child grows up, it might become necessary to modify the existing custody order set by the courts. For example, the child might be leaving for college, changing how they interact with both parents. However, this is only one example of why custody orders might need to change.

Again, parents need to attempt open communication. If they can agree on modifications, the courts can quickly approve the changes. But parents do not always agree on what should happen with their child. If that is the case, one parent might decide to request a modification with the courts formally. If the judge finds the request appropriate, they will review the custody order based on the same initial qualifications.

Need Assistance With Custody

At Tobias Iszard, PC, we assist clients with the unique challenges associated with matters of family law. If you are going through a custody issue, don’t hesitate to contact our family legal team.

Have questions about your child custody case? Call our Manassas child custody lawyers today at (703) 215-1880.