Step 3: Appear in front of the judge.
Your case will be assigned to a particular judge after the petition is filed. All of your court dates will generally be scheduled with your assigned judge. You may appear in front of the judge on the date you file if you are asking for immediate temporary custody. Otherwise, you may be given a date to return to court to appear in front of the judge. The abuser will also be able to appear in court on that date as well.
Once you are both in front of the judge, you may be asked to participate in mediation (also called alternative dispute resolution). If you are afraid of the other parent, or there is a history of family abuse, you can ask the judge to skip the mediation step.1 See What is mediation and who pays for it? for a detailed explanation of mediation. If you do reach an agreement through mediation, the judge will review it and then it will become a court order, unless the court finds that the agreement will not be in the best interests of the child.
If you do not reach an agreement during mediation, or you do not go through mediation, you will have a hearing in front of a judge where both parents will be able to present evidence and witnesses to strengthen their case. There may be multiple hearings before the judge issues a judgment or final custody order. We strongly suggest you get a lawyer to represent you in the hearing to make sure your interests are protected. Go to VA Finding a Lawyer page to find free and paid lawyers.
1 Va. Code § 20-124.4