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Virginia Legislature Considers Streamlined Custody Procedures

Virginia CodeModification to Virginia Code Would Allow Consolidated Petitions

The issues of child custody and visitation are about as connected as any two issues can be. If you have any experience with Virginia custody cases, however, you know that it can feel like each part of your case has its own case number. And that’s because, by and large, it does! The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts here in Virginia will assign one identification number for a child custody case and give a second, different number to a visitation case… for the same child. If paternity is an issue that becomes a third case number. And if there are multiple children, well, each child gets his or her own set of unique case numbers for his or her custody matter. Parents in a custody dispute can find themselves with more than a half dozen case numbers to keep straight when all of these “separate” cases end up being heard by the court at the same time.

In the current legislative session, the Virginia House of Delegates is considering a proposed change to the Virginia Code that would address this situation. The proposed law, House Bill 438, would add language to Virginia Code Section 16.1-260 specifically allowing parties to file a single petition for all custody or visitation issues for a single child. For cases where the parents have multiple children between them, the new law would allow a parent to file a single petition for all custody or visitation issues for all of their children. Instead of having to file six separate petitions for custody and visitation of three kids, this change would allow one petition, with one case number, to cover all of these issues together.

Some have complained that allowing parents to file for custody and visitation in the same petition will encourage parents not to consider what it is they actually want the court to do—decide custody, visitation, or both. In practice, however, many parents aren’t exactly sure what to ask for, and as a result they ask the court for everything it can possibly give. And they do that by filing for custody and visitation with separate petitions.

Some have touted the proposed modification of the Code as a father’s rights law due to its streamlining of the filing process. However, in my opinion this change does not favor fathers or mothers. It simply makes the filing process easier for all parties to understand and follow.

Custody cases are among the most stressful and emotional cases in the law. The custody lawyers at Livesay & Myers are skilled at navigating the court system and assisting parents through the custody process. From offices in Fairfax, Fredericksburg and Manassas, we represent parents throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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