Consent Custody and Visitation Orders in Virginia
Many custody and visitation cases are resolved by negotiation between the parties. Married parents who are separated may include their agreed upon custody and visitation arrangement in a Separation Agreement. If and when the parents proceed with a divorce, that Separation Agreement would then be incorporated into a final divorce decree from the circuit court. Alternatively, parents who are not living together (whether or not they are married) may submit an agreed upon “Consent Custody and Visitation Order” to be entered by the juvenile and domestic relations district court (J&DR court).
If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, either of them may ask the circuit court to decide custody and visitation as part of any divorce filing. Alternatively, either parent may file petitions for custody and visitation in J&DR court.
Depending on the jurisdiction, the parties may not obtain a resolution to their custody and visitation dispute for several months, or in some cases a year or more. Also, custody cases that proceed all the way to trial can be very expensive and emotionally draining as well. Although some parties just cannot agree on custody and visitation and have no choice but to litigate those issues in court, many parents are able to compromise, enter into a consent order, and avoid a custody hearing.
Terms to Include in Consent Custody and Visitation Orders
If you are entering into a consent order on custody and visitation, you should consider including terms in the order addressing each of the following questions:
- Type of Custody. This question, of course, must be answered in the order. If it does nothing else, the consent order should clearly determine who will have custody of the minor children. It is also important to spell out whether one party will have “sole custody” or whether the parties will share “joint” custody. For more information on the differences between sole and joint custody, see our Guide to Custody in Virginia.
- Custody and Visitation Schedule. Disagreements often arise as to when one parent’s custodial time begins and ends. To avoid confusion among parents and children, parties should agree on a schedule which states clearly which days of the week each parent will have the children, when visitation for the noncustodial parent begins and ends, and when and where the children shall be picked up and dropped off from visitation. The schedule should also cover holidays, along with summer, winter and spring breaks from school.
- Communication of the Child With the Non-Custodial Parent. Parties should discuss how their children will communicate with one parent while they are with the other parent. Parties may agree to have telephonic and video access to the children at any reasonable times, or may choose to set a regular schedule for telephonic and video calls. There are many applications available for parents to download and use if they agree to allow video calls.
- Access to School, Medical and Religious Records. Depending on who has legal and physical custody of the minor children, the parties may agree that one or both parents will have access to the education, medical, school, and religious records of the children.
- Travel for the Child. Parties may want to address when and where the minor children may travel with each parent. Parties could establish how far the children may travel, whether an itinerary must be provided to the other parent outlining their travel plans, and who will be responsible for keeping the passports for the children.
- Introduction of Parents’ Romantic Partners to the Child. In addition to the custodial schedule, parties may want to address how and when romantic partners will be introduced to the minor children, and the sleeping arrangements for romantic partners when the children are present.
- Child Support. Depending on the custodial arrangement, one parent may be responsible for paying child support to the other. Virginia has established statutory child support guidelines which calculate a monthly support obligation after taking into account the monthly gross incomes of the parties and the number of children for which support is sought. Parties should consider applying the mathematical guidelines, to determine the amount of child support to be paid. For more information, see our Guide to Child Support in Virginia.
- Medical Expenses. Parents should address who will provide medical, dental, and vision insurance coverage for the children, as well as how any uninsured medical expenses will be paid.
- Extracurricular Activities. As children get older, they may have an interest in participating in extracurricular activities. Parents are encouraged to discuss which extracurricular activities are allowed, the number of extracurricular activities allowed, and how the costs for such activities will be paid.
- Child Care. Parents must decide who will provide any necessary work-related child care for their children, and how the child care costs will be paid and/or divided between the parties. Note that the child support guidelines mentioned above do take into account work-related child care costs.
The terms above are just a few of the issues that parties should consider covering in their consent custody and visitation order. Any consent order may be enforced by the courts for years to come, so be sure to consult with an experienced custody attorney before entering into any such order.
For much more information on how Virginia courts decide custody cases, see our Guide to Custody in Virginia.
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