For much of the 20th century, courts in Virginia and other states almost universally sided with mothers when making custody decisions. But during the past 30 years or so, shared parenting, or joint custody has gained more acceptance. Child custody itself can be broken down as legal custody and physical custody of the child or children involved.
While there are exceptions, courts generally approach shared parenting today with an assumption that joint legal custody will be awarded. However, situations involving physical custody, defined as where a child sleeps at night, generally favor the mother because of logistical issues, such as school obligations and the physical location of both parents' homes. Even so, there has been a clearly noticeable shift in custody trends since the 1980s, as documented by a 2014 study.
In 1980, sole custody was awarded to mothers about 80 percent of the time with custody cases. Nearly 30 years later, that figure had dropped to approximately 40 percent. During the same period, instances of equal shared custody, where the child spends roughly the same number of nights with each parent, jumped from around 5 percent of the cases studied in 1980 to nearly 30 percent. Instances of unequal shared custody also increased during that time period. A University of Minnesota Law School professor believes changes in society over the years, such as the concept that fathers should be a part of the child-rearing process while mothers also pursue careers, have contributed to this trend.
Another sign of progress is that most custody arrangements today are resolved without the need for court intervention. If a court insists on pre-trial mediation, a child custody attorney may initiate and coordinate the negotiation process with the other parent. This typically involves attempts to find common points of agreement with visitation schedules and household arrangements.