Filing for child custody in Virginia demands a basic understanding of relevant laws and procedures. The laws and procedures differ in the commonwealth, depending on whether you seek an initial custody order or whether you seek to alter or amend an existing custody order. If you seek an initial custody order, you must demonstrate that custody with you is in the best interests of the child. If you seek a change of custody, you must demonstrate that a material change of circumstances occurred, warranting an alteration of the custodial arrangement.
Go to the clerk of the court in the county where the child resides. Obtain a motion for custody or motion to change custody form, depending on the circumstances. Virginia court clerks maintain standard forms for use in custody cases by people not represented by attorneys. These forms come complete with instructions.
Fill out the motion for custody form. If seeking an initial custody order, demonstrate on the form what is in the best interests of the child by providing specific information, including that you have been the primary caretaker of the child. Other information that supports the contention that you best can serve the child's needs includes a description of your overall physical and mental health, as well as that of the other parent and the child.
Complete the motion to change custody form, if an existing custody order already is in force. Demonstrating a material change of circumstances in the form requires you to present an argument that maintaining the current custody order is not in the best interests of the child. An example of a material change of circumstances under Virginia law is the contention that the current custodial parent developed a substance abuse addiction that renders him or her incapable of satisfying the best interests of the child.
File the motion form with the clerk of the court.
Send a copy of the motion to the other parent. The filing process is not considered complete pursuant to Virginia law unless a copy of the motion is sent to the other parent. Virginia law does not require the motion to be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested; however, having a signed return receipt is evidence that the other parent received the motion.
Establishing or changing the custody of a minor child in Virginia represents a challenging legal proceeding. Therefore, seriously consider obtaining the services of an experienced lawyer to represent your interests in such a case. The Virginia Bar Association maintains a directory of attorneys in different practice areas, including custody-related law. Contact the organization at:
Virginia Bar Association 701 E. Franklin St. Suite 1120 Richmond, VA 23219 804-644-0041 vba.org
- Virginia General Assembly: Code of Virginia--Title 20: Domestic Relations
- Divorce Law Info: Custody and Visitation in Virginia
- "Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce"; Emily Doskow; 2008