Children, Divorce & Custody

When you divorce or end a relationship, many questions center on what will happen to your children. Where and with whom will the children live? Will both parents share equally in making decisions about the kids’ education and religious upbringing? How much visitation is too much or too little for the parent who does not have custody If one parent has been abusive, does that parent lose all rights to raise or visit with the children? What happens when one parent decides to move to another city or state? These are the issues that can turn the behavior of seemingly mature adults into that of tantrum-throwing toddlers.

Much is at stake in child custody determinations, not the least of which is a desire to assert “rights” over the child at the expense of the other parent. Before you file petitions, however, you should understand the terminology in child custody matters as well as how Virginia courts decide these questions “in the best interests of the child.”

To determine this on a case-by-case basis, a judge will consider the following factors:
• The age and physical and mental condition of the child.
• The age and physical and mental condition of each parent.
• The relationship existing between each parent and each child.
• The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child.
• The role that each parent has played in the upbringing and care of the child.
• The propensity of each parent to support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent.
• The willingness and ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child.
• The reasonable preference of the child.
• Any history of family abuse.
Most importantly, courts are not required to weigh the factors equally or to explain the amount of weight it gives each factor.

One parent can be solely responsible for making legal decisions about the child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care and other significant concerns. Or, both parents can share legal custody and decision-making authority. With joint legal custody, one parent usually retains primary physical custody of the child while the other parent shares “parenting time.” Parents can mutually agree to any variety of joint physical custody arrangements, too.

Visitation or “parenting plans” can be as varied as parents desire them to be. It makes sense for parents to collaborate on a plan specific to their needs rather than leaving details to a judge who does not know you or your children. Keep in mind that as your children grow, the visitation plan can be modified by mutual agreement. Our office has helped clients negotiate mutually agreeable parenting plans to avoid the expenses associated with litigation in court.

Geographical relocation for custodial and non-custodial parents is typically problematic. There is no governing statute, so Virginia courts use legal tests to determine the best interests of the child. The main factors courts will consider are:
1. Each parent’s motive for requesting or denying permission to relocate.
2. How the move would make the quality of life better for the child (considering developmental needs and ties to the present community).
3. How the move will impact or jeopardize the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent (considering the distance and expense of travel).
In any event, the benefit gained by relocation must be to the child, independent of the moving parent. Every child has a constitutionally protected interest in a relationship with both parents, whether they live together or separately. Each parent has a fundamental right to raise his or her child and to share in the responsibilities of child rearing. Therefore, it is important to play nicely with the other parent in your child’s life. It is in everyone’s best interests.

Contact Hainer Porras LLC with your custody, visitation and relocation concerns. We can answer your questions, write agreements and motion courts in the best interests of your children. Visit or call 703-596-0232.

Hainer Porras
Lesley Ellefson-Porras represents clients with a variety of immigration issues, including family reunification, deportation, removal defense, special immigrant juvenile status under state and federal law, as well as asylum matters. Karen Hainer provides her clients with a variety of family law services including uncontested and contested divorces, child custody and visitation determinations, marital and pre-nuptial agreements, and same-sex divorce. She is qualified by the Supreme Court of Virginia as a guardian ad litem to advocate for the best interests of minor children in court proceedings. Additionally, Karen has represented sexual assault victims in civil cases.