How is child custody decided in Virginia?

Do fathers and mothers have an equal chance of getting custody?

By Carolyn Grimes
December 19, 2016

Child custody is decided under what's called the best interest of the child. We have a statute that enumerates something like 18 factors for the court to consider the best interest of the child, which relates to the child's age and developmental needs, and the role each parent has played in the child's upbringing so far. A critical factor in Virginia is what we call the propensity of one parent to encourage the other parent's relationship with the child. If you're constantly blocking your spouse from seeing the child, that's not a good custody factor, and a whole other hosts – including whether there's been abuse in the family. Do fathers and mothers have an equal chance of getting custody these days? These days, it’s an interesting term.

There used to be a doctrine called the “tender years doctrine” in a lot of states, and it was a law in Virginia that a child under the age of five or seven was automatically given to the mother because it was in its tender years, meaning its very young years. That has specifically been outlawed and the custody statutes are gender neutral, and they have been in Virginia for well over 20 years, and most other states have that as well.

Carolyn Grimes is a family lawyer at the law firm of Wade Grimes Friedman Sutter & Leischner PLLC in Alexandria, Virginia. To learn more about Grimes and her firm, visit

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December 19, 2016
Categories:  FAQs

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