Determining child custody is not a process that simply considers what the parents want. The court’s real focus is to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child. Parents may want sole custody, for instance, but the court may determine that it would be better for the child to have a joint custody arrangement.
If you’re heading toward a divorce, you may naturally wonder exactly what the court is going to look at when making those decisions. While every case is unique, there are common traits and conditions that apply in many situations.
Examples of potential areas to consider
Virginia Code § 20-124.3 sets forth the precise statutory factors that are to be considered when determining the custody of a minor child. The following is not a comprehensive list of everything that the court will look at, but it does help you get a sense of their overall goals and factors that may swing decisions in one direction or another. They may consider:
- Your living situation
- Your physical health
- Your mental health
- If you were the child’s main caregiver
- What your child wants
- Any criminal history or history of abuse
- Any history of drug use or addiction
- The child’s specific needs
- The child’s age
- The child’s gender
- Religious considerations
- Cultural factors
- If there are other children involved
- The relationship between the parents
- The child’s school and social life
- What can be done to create the most stability
All in all, the goal is typically to make it so that both parents have custody or visitation rights, keeping them both involved. These factors can support that decision or push the court away from it. For instance, they will not do anything to put the child in danger, so if your spouse has a history of criminal activity or abuse, odds are much higher that you can get approved for sole custody. While there is no statutory presumption favoring either sole or joint custody, when there are two fit and capable parents it is common to share this responsibility unless it would clearly be better not to do so.
Moving forward with your case
Understanding what the court is looking at can really help you decide on the best course of action moving forward. Be sure you consider all of your options and your legal rights.