Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer in Virgina Beach
Anyone who has dealt with divorce or child custody disputes already knows just how difficult, stressful, and contentious the process can be. While some divorces can be simple to resolve when both parties are in agreement on the terms of a divorce, other couples do not have the same experience, especially when children are involved. A significant number of Virginia parents seeking divorce believe that they are required to handle child custody matters at the same time as the divorce. This is simply not the case. All Virginia families should be aware of what options are available when considering divorce and seeking to resolve custody matters.
At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., Child Custody and Divorce Attorney Patricia Hardt helps clients find more feasible solutions to addressing custody matters and divorce. With an understanding that legal fees and court costs can quickly accrue, Attorney Hardt strives to help clients resolve their domestic matters in the most cost-effective way possible. One way in which Attorney Hardt provides cost-effective legal representation is to address child custody and divorce as two separate matters.
Divorce in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Divorce is a difficult and highly emotional process, but sometimes filing for divorce is necessary given the unique situation of a married couple. For married couples without children, the process can be quicker depending on how much property is involved, and whether the divorce is contested or not. In Virginia, married couples seeking divorce must file for divorce in the Circuit Court. This court will determine whether one spouse is entitled to spousal support (alimony), how property should be distributed, and which spouse keeps the marital home. The court determines what is the most equitable way to distribute assets and property. The goal is to reach a fair result for both parties.
When children are involved, the Circuit Court must address the same child custody issues the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court addresses. However, filing for divorce in the Circuit Court can cost much more than handling a child custody matter in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court. As such, many parents wish to handle custody matters first before filing for divorce.
Child Custody in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Child custody often goes hand in hand with divorce in Virginia circuit court, however, Virginia parents seeking to establish a custody arrangement can also do so through the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court before seeking a divorce or never being married. Child custody matters handled by this court include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- Custody arrangements and visitation
- Issuance of temporary orders pending a contested trial (where the parents contest or disagree on custody matters)
- Appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the child
- Child support
- Mental health and substance abuse evaluations
- Motions to amend existing custody or visitation orders
- Motions/filings to demonstrate a parent has failed to pay child support
- Post-divorce custody and visitation issues
- Motions/filings to demonstrate a parent has failed to obey a court order (i.e., in contempt of court)
- Protective orders to protect a child and/or parent from abuse, such as assault and battery
Types of Child Custody and Factors For Determining the Custodial Parent
There are various types of child custody that include the following: split, sole, shared, divided, and joint. The court will consider various factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child, and what custody arrangement is best. These factors include the following:
- The age and physical/mental condition of the child with consideration of the child’s changing developmental needs
- The age and physical/mental condition of each parent
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child
- The needs of the child, giving consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to, siblings, peers and extended family members
- The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child
- The reasonable preferences of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference
- Any history of family abuse or sexual abuse
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination
Custody matters can also be dealt with in Virginia’s Circuit Courts along with filing for divorce. Depending on a family’s situation, addressing custody issues as part of a divorce may or may not be a good option. At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., every client will receive a case evaluation to determine if child custody should be addressed in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court or the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court can handle the same exact custody issues as the juvenile court, but may consider the additional factor of how the marital residence should be used.
When Do I Need an Attorney for a Child Custody Matter?
It is always best to learn about what legal options are available before attempting to take on a custody matter without the assistance of an attorney. While some legal matters can be resolved without the help of an attorney, child custody matters are highly sensitive and a child’s livelihood is on the line. As such, consulting with a Virginia Child Custody Attorney before taking action is crucial to ensure a parent is aware of all options and how to further the child’s best interests.
For example, if a child is in a situation where one parent is attempting to turn the other parent away from the child, it is important for a court to be aware of such conduct, as this may play a role in how a court determines the best custody arrangement for the child. When a parent’s attempts to turn a child against the other parent are successful, the child may begin to exhibit behavior associated with what is called “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).” A child who exhibits behaviors of PAS may begin to ignore or refuse to have contact with one parent.
While PAS is not a diagnosable medical condition, it is something that describes a set of behaviors seen in situations where parents are harshly at odds with one another. In the end, it is the child who suffers. To ensure a child’s interests are being furthered, and to ensure a court is aware of all aspects of the child’s life, it is imperative to consider having an attorney handle the matter. An attorney can gather evidence and help to shape a custody arrangement that is both best for the child and is something a court will agree on.
Another example of why speaking with an attorney is important is potential child abuse. If one parent is aware that the other parent is abusing the child, a court will need to know about it, and an attorney can present this evidence. A custody order to protect a potentially abused child is essential, and an attorney has the ability to fight for the best arrangement possible to protect the child.
There are additional ways in which custody disputes can become heated and contentious. Therefore, the best option is to let an attorney handle the difficult child custody process. By working with an attorney, a parent can have a child custody matter resolved in the quickest way possible in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court. A parent considering divorce can then have the challenges of custody matters behind them when filing for divorce. Oftentimes, child custody battles make a divorce more contentious and painful. By having custody matters (such as spousal support/alimony, child support, and visitation agreements, among others) handled in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court, the divorce process can be much smoother.
How Hardt Law, P.L.L.C. Can Help You Move Forward During a Difficult Time
Contacting an attorney is not an easy decision to make. It takes careful consideration of all options and an understanding that legal action may be the best way to resolve a custody matter or divorce. Working with a highly qualified and experienced Virginia Child Custody and Divorce Attorney is essential to ensure every client is receiving necessary legal representation.
At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., Patricia Hardt not only has extensive trial and litigation experience, but she also has experience as both a prosecutor and public defender. Ms. Hardt is licensed in Virginia, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. If you would like to receive a consultation and learn about what options may be best for your situation, you should consider contacting Hardt Law, P.L.L.C. today by calling (757) 962-5588.