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Know the Laws: Virginia

UPDATED October 2, 2012

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Below is state-specific information about custody in Virginia.

Definitions

back to topWhat is custody?

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your child (under 18, generally). Custody could be divided up between the parents (joint custody) or given only to one parent (sole custody).*  There are 2 types of custody: legal and physical. 

  • Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child’s well-being, including matters of education, medical care and religious development.
  • Physical custody decides who the child will live with on a day-to-day basis.
* Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.1

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back to topWhat is joint custody?

Joint custody could mean a few things:

Joint legal custody: Both parents share the power to make major decisions about the child’s well-being, even though the child’s primary residence may be with one parent.

Joint physical custody: The child will split his/her time between both parents’ homes. It does not necessarily mean that the child will live with each parent 50% of the time -- the time will be split so that the child will have a lot of contact with both parents.*

The court may choose any combination of joint legal and joint physical custody that would be in the best interests of the child. This could mean that

  • the child lives with one parent, but both parents have the power to make decisions about the child;
  • the child lives with both parents (split-time) and both parents have the power to make decisions about the child; or
  • the child lives with both parents, but only one parent has the power to make major decisions about the child.*
* Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.1

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back to topWhat is sole custody?

Sole custody means that one parent has the power to make major decisions about the child and the responsibility to be the child’s primary caretaker (meaning the child will live primarily with this parent).*

The other parent may still have the right to visit with the child but will not be able to make major decisions about the child’s education, medical and religious needs. For more information, see What is the difference between custody and visitation?

* Va. Code Ann. § 20-124.1

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back to topWhat is the difference between custody and visitation?

Visitation allows a parent to visit with his/her child.  How often the visits take place, where the visits take place, and whether or not the visits need to be supervised by another adult, will all be determined by the court.  Like custody, visitation arrangements will be determined by what the court feels is in the best interests of the child.*  For more information on how a judge will make decisions about custody and visitation, see How will a judge make a decision about custody?

Unlike legal custody, visitation does not give a parent the right to make major decisions about the child’s well-being, including education or medical matters.  Unlike physical custody, a child will not live with a parent who has visitation rights.  However, the child may be able to have overnight, weekend, or even longer visits with the parent, depending on what the court decides.

* Va. Code Ann. §§ 20-124.2(B); 124.3

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