Filing for child custody, while financially efficient and timely, will require a great deal of paperwork. This is necessary since the Court must take into account an exhaustive list of factors including the child’s relationship with either parent and members of the extended family, the child’s physical and mental condition, the parents’ physical, financial and mental condition, the child’s personal preference, family domestic abuse history, along with less measurable, arbitrary factors such as the willingness of both parents to 1) maintain closeness with the child and 2) to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent. While the Court will take into account any past felonies committed by the parents, such instances will not negate a parent’s right to claiming custody – unless the individual committed a sexual misconduct in which the child was victim.
Other individuals entitled to filing for custody in Virginia include those deemed by Virginia law as of ‘legitimate interest’, which includes grandparents, step-parents, and other blood relatives.
All documents submitted to the Court must be done so under the supervision and authorization of a notary, with the agreement of both parents (if the case is a divorce or separation).
If the parents want to apply for joint custody, paternity must be established – whether through a genetic test, or through a written agreement signed by both parents.
Before approaching the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Virginia, it is necessary to affirm your child’s eligibility. In order to file a custody case in the judiciary of a specific county, it is necessary that the parents can prove of the minor’s continuous residence there for a minimum of six consecutive months. Once residency is proven, the parents may approach the Court Services Unit of the JDRC (or the Circuit Court if a divorce/annulment/separation is underway) in order to obtain documentation. This will usually require an appointment to be set along with a small fee of $25 (if unaffordable, a DC-606 Form can be filed to waive the fee). The form must delineate the aforementioned factors, usually with the aid of a clerk. Generally, if there have been severe or repeated instances of domestic violence, the Court may order Supervised Visitations for the parent(s) involved, and possibly the complete termination of a parent’s contact with the minor. In such cases, custody is fully awarded to the non-abusive caretaker.
An affidavit required by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act in Virginia must be filled, detailing general information pertinent to the minor’s living state including their permanent address, the caregiver(s) with the minor at the estate, the respective residences of both caretakers (or either) during the minor’s residence at the given address, and any court cases in which the minor was involved. This affidavit, along with the petition, must be accompanied by a summons to which the other party must respond – generally delivered by a law enforcement officer. All documents must be signed in the presence, and under the supervision, of a court official or notary. Three copies must be made to accommodate the Court and both parties.
Once filed, a court hearing will be ordered after several weeks. Within the wait period, the court will assign a temporary visitation and custody order (unless caretakers can establish one independently). If the custody is contested, the court hearing will generally take longer – at times requiring numerous hearings. The interests of the child are secured through a court-appointed GAL in Virginia (Guardian ad Litem).