Navigating through a child custody case can feel overwhelming and deeply personal. As experienced Norfolk child custody lawyers, Montagna Law understands the emotional rollercoaster that parents go through during this challenging time.
The primary focus of any custody battle is, and should always be, the well-being and best interests of the children involved. This guide shares insights into the child custody process in Norfolk, helps you understand your rights, provides an overview of Virginia’s legal framework, and outlines steps you can take to protect yourself and your children.
Let’s explore together how you can approach this difficult situation with the best interests of your children at heart. Contact our law office at 877-622-8100 to get the conversation started about how getting legal representation may be a good option to receive the help you need to build a strong child custody case.
By definition, child custody in the Commonwealth of Virginia is the “care, control, and maintenance” of a child. Generally speaking, a Norfolk court will presume both parents to be “natural and proper” custodians. Under certain circumstances, a court will award child custody to one parent or another party.
In Virginia, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court handles child custody cases and makes decisions. In cases of dispute or other circumstances where a parent may be unfit to take responsibility for their child, the court will:
Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court makes decisions by giving primary consideration to what is in the best interest of the child when it comes to custody, visitation, and support.
When you pursue child custody in Virginia, there are a few different types of outcomes a court will legally put into place at the conclusion of your custody case. Here are the three primary custody structures awarded in a Virginia court.
In cases of sole custody, the court often recommends the custodial parent have “meaningful discussion” with the noncustodial parent regarding essential decisions relating to their child(ren). However, ultimately, the custodial parent has the final say.
Every child custody case comes in front of a judge who will look at specific elements before making a final decision. In accordance with Virginia Code § 20-124.3, a judge will consider the following:
The court will consider any and all other factors that may positively or negatively impact what is in the best interest of the child relating to the custody case. This includes any “pendente lite” orders pursuant to Virginia Code § 20-103.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) means “guardian for the suit.” It is under the authority of a Virginia judge to assign a GAL who will assist the court in gathering all relevant circumstances to a child custody case. The GAL has the following responsibilities:
Essentially, the GAL’s role is to provide independent recommendations to the court regarding a child’s best interests. If allegations of abuse or neglect are present, this is a situation where the court will automatically assign a GAL.
A Virginia judge will appoint a guardian ad litem, but parents and/or their child custody attorney can request a GAL be involved in their custody case. Ultimately, the judge makes the final decision if an assignment of a GAL is warranted. It is important to understand that a GAL’s responsibility is to act in the best interest of a child. Their involvement may or may not work in favor of your case.
The Hampton Roads area hosts 15 military installations with more than 80,000 active duty personnel serving locally, including the distinguished Naval Station Norfolk.
With Norfolk home to one of the largest populations in a Virginia city, our family law firm works with many military families. Unfortunately, the pressures military families often face, such as deployment and relocation, often lead to family conflicts and child custody disputes.
Montagna Law provides full service to our military families to help them cope with the stresses and find fair resolutions to family conflicts.
Facing a family law case regarding child custody usually comes with feelings of fear and uncertainty. You want what is best for your children.
Montagna Law offers decades of experience. In 2023, our law firm received the honor of being listed in Attorney and Practice Magazine’s Top 10 Family Law Firms in Virginia.
When you work with Montagna Law, you can rest assured our attorneys are well-versed in Virginia family law and will work closely with you throughout your case. The attorney-client relationship is very important to us, and we pride ourselves on providing each of our clients with trustworthy and sound legal advice.
“I love that my concerns are ALWAYS addressed, and my phone calls are returned. Great staff!!” -Sickler J.
Montagna Law has years of experience in Hampton Roads. Remember, you are not alone in this difficult journey. Whenever you need a family law attorney, our Norfolk law firm is here for you. We are dedicated to serving Norfolk and the entire Hampton Roads area to find resolution to their family law matters, including but not limited to:
The legal complexities might seem daunting, but with guidance and support from an experienced Norfolk child custody lawyer, you can navigate this path with confidence and clarity. Contact our family law firm at 877-622-8100 or, if you prefer, fill out our online contact form. We are happy to set an appointment for an initial consultation with you in our Norfolk office to discuss your child custody case.
If you have other legal issues, be sure to ask about our other practice areas. Montagna Law offers services for several different legal issues, including personal injury, estate planning, and workers’ compensation. Our law firm proudly serves the entire Hampton Roads area, including Norfolk, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Suffolk.
In the event no court order is issued, both parents have equal rights to their minor children. Virginia law recognizes both parents as being equally important to the well-being of a child. However, parents sometimes need to separate, and if this occurs in your household, you will want to establish a custody arrangement right away.
While the terms “legal custody” and “physical custody” may seem interchangeable, each phrase means something very different in the eyes of the law.
Legal custody refers to decision-making responsibilities where minor children are concerned. This includes, but is not limited to, choices regarding education, religion, and medical care and treatment. Many courts will award joint legal custody to both parents unless there are unique circumstances where this would not be in the best interest of the child.
Physical custody relates to which parent the minor child lives and spends the majority of their time. Even if joint legal custody is awarded, one parent may be given physical custody, making them the “custodial” parent. This happens most of the time with the other parent awarded secondary custody. While rarer, a court may also award joint physical custody.
Ultimately, when it comes to legal and/or physical custody decisions, a court will put an emphasis on what is in the best interest of the child.
In Virginia, at the age of 12, a child is considered to be old enough to express preference about which parent they want to move in with. The judge still ultimately decides their residency based on what is in their best interest but will consider the child’s opinion into consideration.
A court may come to the conclusion a parent is unfit. This case is typically heard in two contexts:
By law, the definition of an unfit parent exhibits one or more of the following behaviors or attributes:
These, along with other behaviors, are taken into consideration when a court declares a parent to be unfit to raise and care for their child. Also factored in is the parent’s history of previous childcare involvement.
Jon Montagna received a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from American University in Washington D.C. and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1999. Jon practices law in the Hampton Roads Virginia area.