When is Sole Custody Justifiable in Virginia?

sole custody virginia

Potential clients often ask about the likelihood that they will be awarded sole custody of their child. This prediction, however, is not so easily forecast. In Virginia, there is both legal and physical custody, and there can be both sole legal and/or sole physical custody awarded or agreed to in any case. Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make major decisions regarding a child. So, sole legal custody is the situation where only one parent is responsible for making all decisions regarding a child. Physical custody refers to daily care of a child. When a parent is awarded sole physical custody of a child, he or she is the parent responsible to care for that child. Nevertheless, in all situations involving custody, the courts weigh a number of factors in determining what is in the best interests of the child.

For both legal and physical custody, it is difficult to obtain sole custody. It is Virginia’s general public policy to encourage both parents’ involvement in the care and decision-making regarding their children. There are, however, certain circumstances where the court will award a parent sole legal or physical custody.

Generally, because sole legal custody refers to decision-making authority, when there is a compelling reason for the court to belief that a parent’s ability to make decisions in the best interest of the child is compromised, there is a better chance that the court will award sole legal custody. A Virginia court may award sole legal custody to one parent where there has been a complete breakdown of parental communication. For instance, when parents are entirely unable to communicate or agree with one another, a court may award sole legal custody. If one parent engages in parental alienation or denies the other parent access to the child, a court may also have grounds for an award of sole legal custody. In addition, a court may award sole legal custody when one parent has abused a child or is otherwise deemed unfit in some way. Nevertheless, a court awards sole legal custody in only rare instances.

When it comes to physical custody, awards of sole custody are similarly infrequent. While one parent may be awarded sole physical custody, it is most often the case that the other parent will be awarded some type of visitation. In keeping with Virginia’s public policy, a court is not likely to completely sever a parent’s right to see his or her child. Even when one parent is deemed unfit – whether because of addiction, mental health issues, abuse, or some other reason – a court is still likely to award restricted or supervised visitation between that parent and the child.

In all cases, custody determinations are fact specific, so it is important that you consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your unique case. More importantly, it is imperative that you are candid with your attorney so that he or she can accurately assess the possibilities in your case, particularly those regarding sole legal or physical custody.


Jenna Maresco  
About the Author
Ms. Maresco is an active member of the Northern Virginia legal community. Recently, Ms. Maresco participated in the Wills on Wheels program through the Northern Virginia Pro Bono Law Center where she assisted income-eligible members of the community with the preparation of estate planning documents. Ms. Maresco is a member of the Family Law Section of the Fairfax Bar Association and is admitted to practice in both Virginia and New Jersey.
 
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