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What are the basic kinds of custody available in Virginia?

Filing for divorce means a change in your primary spousal relationship. It also means big changes for the rest of your family.

If you have children with your ex, then you will need to create a custody plan that helps you work together as co-parents. If you can’t reach a settlement, then you will have to litigate and ask a judge to rule on custody for your family.

Before you start that process, you will first want to familiarize yourself with the terms used to describe custody in Virginia.

Physical custody

When people talk about custody, physical custody is often what they mean. It refers to being responsible for a child’s needs and having direct parenting time with them. Couples often want to share physical custody, although a 50/50 split is not always reasonable. Still, even those with demanding jobs can find a way to reliably be present for certain days with their children every month.

Legal custody

Legal custody is not a reference to the order entered by the family courts at the end of your divorce. Rather, it refers to decision-making authority granted to the parents of minor children.

If you hope to raise your children in your religious community or if you have specific wishes for their education, legal custody is particularly important. You need to have the right to play a role in the decision-making process for your preferences to matter in the lives of your children.

Joint and sole custody

People are often more familiar with these terms than with the terms legal and physical custody. Joint custody or shared custody involves both parents playing a role in the care and decision-making for a child. Sole custody means that only one parent has those rights and responsibilities.

Your family circumstances will directly influence your custody negotiations or the outcome of litigation. At every step in the process, the best interests of your children should be the most important consideration.

Sometimes, parents share physical custody but not legal custody. Other times, they share or don’t share both kinds of custody. Thinking about your family and wishes for your children can help you establish realistic expectations for your Virginia custody case.