How to Get Sole Custody of a Child in Virginia

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to Get Sole Custody of a Child in Virginia

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

In Virginia, when a couple is going through a divorce and the court must decide which parent gets custody, it first considers what's in the best interest of the child. Many states, if not all, recognize the importance of having both parents in a child's life. However, sometimes that may not be in the best interest of the child, and so the court awards one parent sole custody. Even if this is the case, the child's other parent is often granted visitation rights.

Woman working on a laptop while holding an infant

Types of Custody in Virginia

As a general matter, custody in Virginia is defined as having the legal responsibility for the care and control of a child under the age of 18. When a couple gets married and has children, they have joint custody over those children. When a couple gets divorced, that custody can be split a couple different ways.

There are two types of custody in the state: legal and physical. Legal custody is the ability to make major decisions affecting the child's life, such as medical care, education, and religious upbringing. Physical custody means the child lives with you. Obtaining sole custody of your child means that the court has granted you both legal and physical custody. As stated above, even if you obtain sole custody, your ex-spouse can likely retain visitation rights, unless they've been abusive or otherwise deemed unfit. The court will specify when and where the visits take place and whether they must be supervised.

How to Obtain Sole Custody in Virginia

Typically upon getting a divorce, the court will include a child custody arrangement in the divorce decree. However, if there is no court order already in place, you can reach out to the court services unit of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. An employee can help you find the correct paperwork that you will need to fill out and file in the county where both you and your child reside.

If there is already a court order in place, you must petition the court to amend or review the order. In both instances, the other parent must be served with the appropriate paperwork. The court then schedules an initial hearing to discuss the issue of sole custody. Typically, a mutual agreement where both parents can agree on custody is the preferred outcome. However, if that cannot be accomplished, the judge will hold a trial on your petition or motion to amend one to three months after the initial hearing.

A judge weighs a number of factors when deciding whether one parent should have sole custody of the child. These factors include the mental condition of both parents, any history of abuse, alcohol or drug problems, criminal convictions, and what the child wants—especially an older child.

Virginia courts are hesitant to award a parent sole custody because they place great emphasis on the importance of having both parents in a child's life. However, in all cases, child custody determinations are fact specific. Consider reaching out to a professional who can help answer your questions if you would like more information.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.