Child custody determinations and changing family structures: Impact in VA

The family structure is evolving. Child custody laws may soon follow.

The family structure has evolved over recent generations. As noted in a recent article in the Boston Globe, instead of the typical Leave it to Beaver structure, with mom staying home while the father goes out to the workplace, most women currently work outside of the home. According to the article, 71 percent of households have women who work outside the home and an increasing number of men are taking on a higher level of child care responsibilities than in previous generations.

These dynamics are much different than they were when child custody and support laws were initially drafted. As a result, many states are updating custody laws to reflect an equal parent status.

Movement towards shared parenting

States throughout the country are considering legislation proposals that would encourage courts to choose shared parenting options. Legislatures in neighboring Massachusetts are currently considering a proposal that encourages a minimum of one-third time with each parent. Virginia is also considering changes. A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch provides the view of Virginia's Child Support Guidelines Review Panel, which calls for "embracing shared parenting."

Those who oppose statutes that specify an equal amount of time with each parent argue that each case should be reviewed individually. Instead of a "one size fits all" approach, judges should use discretion and retain the ability to make a determination based on the best interest of the child.

Child custody and Virginia state law

Virginia state law defines custody as the care, control and maintenance of a child or children. Courts currently use the best interest of the child standard to determine the best form of custody. Courts can choose from one of three forms: joint legal, joint physical and sole.

Joint legal custody refers to both parents retaining responsibility for the care and control of the child, even if the child lives primarily with one parent. Joint physical custody refers to situations in which both parents share the physical and custodial care of the child while sole custody refers to one parent having the primary responsibility for the care of the child.

Legislative proposals like those noted above could result in a switch from a focus on the best interest of the child to a focus on time spent with each parent.

Importance of legal counsel

This is just one example of the evolving nature of family law. As a result, those who are going through or considering a divorce are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Virginia child custody attorney. This legal professional will guide you through the process, advocating for your rights and working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.