Legal Review: Changes to Virginia Child Custody Statute Encourage Joint Custody in Divorce Cases

By Petersburg criminal defense attorney Nicholas Braswell with Price Benowitz, LLP.

One of the most challenging aspects of any divorce is determining custody arrangements for minor children.

Courts are tasked with weighing the best interests of the child or children and issuing an order that outlines the custodial agreement that the parents are to abide by.

Virginia law had previously done little to encourage courts to consider joint custody of children. However, the findings of numerous research projects have concluded that the benefits of some form of shared custody have serious impacts on the overall health and well-being of children.

With this research in mind, Virginia legislators passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that changed the language of the child custody statute to remove any requirement that the court give one type of custody preference over any other, and to require courts to seriously examine the possibility of joint custody as well as sole custody.

“This change to the statute gives the courts more guidance in when it should consider joint custody,” said Nicholas Braswell, a Virginia domestic abuse attorney with Price Benowitz, LLP.

What the law also does is leave in place existing provisions that allow the court to consider a parent’s history of domestic violence or other abuse. Specifically, in situations where one parent has been convicted of a crime involving, among other things, domestic violence or sexual abuse of a child, that parent can be stopped from filing any petitions to alter the custody arrangement for the child for up to ten years, if the court decides that such a limitation is in the best interests of the child.

More than 20 states are currently considering adding or have added laws to their books that encourage this type of co-parenting. As the body of research indicating the advantages children raised by two parents receive due to that consistent parental involvement grows, so too will pressure on state legislatures to adopt laws like these.

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