Legal Information: Virginia


December 31, 2021

Who can seek custody? Can a grandparent, step-parent, or other relative get custody?

Generally, both parents are entitled to seek sole or joint custody from the court. However, if the parents are unmarried, the father must first establish paternity before seeking legal custody of his child.1

Non-parents who are “persons with a legitimate interest” may also be able to seek custody or visitation of a minor child.2 A person with a legitimate interest includes, but is not limited to:

  • grandparents;
  • step-grandparents;
  • step-parents;
  • former step-parents;
  • blood relatives and other family members; and
  • any other person who has a similar relationship with the child, and the court determines that s/he has a legitimate interest in the child.3

Note: Even though a non-parent may be able to apply for custody, the natural parents of the child will be given preference in a custody dispute, as long as they are considered fit (able) to take care of the child.2

1 Va. Code § 20-49.1
2 Va. Code § 20-124.2(B)
3 Va. Code § 20-124.1

WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.