If a Virginia court has never issued a custody order for your child, then you and the other parent both have equal possession of the child, regardless of whether you are married or not.
However, if you are filing for custody in Virginia there are certain requirements you must meet.
Who Can File for Custody in Virginia?
There are actually several individuals who can file for custody in Virginia.
For example, either parent may file for sole or joint custody in the event they feel the other parent is restricting their access to the child.
However, if the parents are not married the father may have to establish paternity before filing in this way.
Additionally, a person with a “legitimate interest” in the child may also file for custody in Virginia.
This means that grandparents, step-parents, blood relatives, and family members can all file, as well as anyone else that the court determines has a significant enough interest in the child’s well-being.
However, anyone who has been convicted of having sexual conduct with the child may not seek custody in any circumstance.
Other violent crimes factor into the custody process, but these aren’t necessarily going to prevent a parent from obtaining custody, unless there is a history of family abuse.
How Do I File for Custody in Virginia?
If the parents of the child are already in a divorce, annulment, or another similar court proceeding in Circuit Court, then custody of the child will be determined in the Circuit Court as part of those proceedings.
Before filing for custody in Virginia with a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, you need to determine which Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to file in.
In most all cases, you should file in the county where the child’s “home” is located. Essentially, this is where the child has lived for the last six consecutive months.
Petitioning for Custody
In order to file for custody, you must first file a petition for custody with the Court Services Unit in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of your county.
A general outline of a petition can be found here, but you must include in the petition facts that will factor into the judge’s decision.
These factors can include:
- The child’s age, physical condition, and mental condition.
- The parents’ age, physical condition, and mental condition.
- The relationships between the child, parents, siblings, and extended family.
- The needs of the child.
- The role each parent has played and will play in the upbringing and care of the child.
- The willingness of each parent to actively support the child’s contact with the other parent.
- The willingness of each parent to maintain a close relationship with the child.
- The child’s preference.
- Any history of family abuse or sexual abuse.
- Any other factors that the court may think are relevant to the child’s custody.
You will be charged a $25 fee to file this petition.
However, if you feel that you cannot afford this fee, you may also file Form DC-606, which may allow you to file without paying the fee, provided the judge approves it.
Since you are filing for custody in Virginia, your petition is subject to the rules and guidelines outlined in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
For this reason, you must also file an affidavit detailing the child’s present address, the places where that child has lived in the past five years, and with whom that child has lived during the five year period, amongst other things listed on the form.
All of these documents should be signed in the presence of a notary public or a court official.
Additionally, if you have hired a lawyer he or she may sign these forms on your behalf.
After You File
After filing for custody in Virginia, you must also make sure that the other parent or guardian of the child receives notice of this filing.
Some courts will do this for you, but this is not necessarily the case in every county.
You will need to contact the court house that you filed with in order to determine if you need to provide notice.
You may contact the Court Services Unit in the juvenile court of your county to figure this out.
After this, all you have left to do is appear at your trial where you can argue for why the judge should approve your custody petition.
Filing for custody can be an emotional experience.
There’s a lot of paperwork that has to be put together, and you will need to speak to a judge about any decision that is made regarding best interests of your child.
For that reason, it may be helpful to hire a family law attorney to help you through this process.