What is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in a Virginia Divorce?

By: John Whitbeck

[7.8.2020] If you are preparing for a divorce in Virginia and you have children, you may be concerned about how custody will be handled. There are two types of custody that your Virginia divorce attorney will explain when you come in. These are physical custody and legal custody, which are two very distinct things. Here’s a look at what each type of custody means, and what you need to know for your upcoming divorce.

Legal Custody in Virginia

Legal custody deals with who has the power to make important decisions related to your children. When possible, the court prefers to award joint legal custody. This means that both parents would share legal custody and make decisions together regarding topics like education, general upbringing, religion, and more. There is an assumption with joint legal custody that you and your soon-to-be-ex have a good enough relationship to have a civil conversation about these topics.

When there are major problems with one parent, the court may decide to award legal custody to one parent only. This is typically a last resort as the courts prefer that both parents be involved in important decisions.

Physical Custody in Virginia

Physical custody basically refers to where your children will spend their time. The court may grant joint legal custody, but the truth is that your kids will likely spend time mainly with one parent. The other parent will usually have significant parenting time with their kids. Physical custody can be split in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. Some of these circumstances can include factors like where the parents live, where the child goes to school, how old the child is, the parents’ work schedules, and more.

While the court does look at each parent’s needs and desires, the first priority is to decide custody based on what is best for the child. It is the court’s job to be the advocate for the child in a custody dispute. The courts strongly encourage parents to work together to come up with a custody arrangement on their own, rather than leave it up to the judge to decide.

How Parenting Plans Work

Once custody is decided, both parents will need to come up with a parenting plan that dictates how much time your children will spend with the other parent. The parenting plan will cover details like pick-up and drop-off days and times, how holiday schedules will work, where your children will spend important holidays, etc. It should also cover details you might not think about, like communication methods between you and your ex, disciplining, pick-up and drop-offs for extracurricular activities, and more. While the court can make some of these decisions for you, it’s better for everyone if you can decide on a fair parenting plan on your own.

Contact a Virginia Divorce Attorney Today

If you need assistance with a Virginia divorce or custody battle, you need an experienced Virginia family attorney who can help. Contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or email clientservices@wblaws.com.

WhitbeckBennett provides social-distancing in-person consultations, private consultations by video conference at our office, or telephone/video consultations anywhere you may be located. We also currently offer a Virtual Consultation Room.

Related: Divorce; Child and Spousal Support;