Custody and Visitation: Part 1

Custody and Visitation are two of the most common types of cases that Family Law attorneys will see. Custody deals with who the child should primarily live with and who should control where the child goes to school. Visitation deals with how often the non-custodial parent gets to see the child. Most of the questions that I get from clients involves some basic information that everyone should have when dealing with child custody and visitation. This is the first in a series that explains the process and common terms involved.

     The first thing that I want to talk about are the terms that we lawyers use when dealing with child custody. Terms are important, because the law is built on terms and words. Without understanding the terms behind the law, a judge may deny your petition and leave you without your child.Some common terms that you will run into when dealing with custody and visitation issues are jurisdiction, venue, and the best interests.

     Jurisdiction is a word that we lawyers invented to describe how courts are able to have power over you. There are two types of jurisdiction; subject matter and procedural. Subject matter jurisdiction deals with which of the three court types in Virginia will deal with your case; Juvenile and Domestic Relatoins Court, General District Court, or Circuit Court. I previously talked about the differences between these courts. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts are the ones that handle issues related to children. Sometimes the Circuit Court will hear issues of custody if they were the ones that handled the divorce process.

     Procedural jurisdiction is a fancy phrase that simply means; are you in the right area or state for your case? One of the largest issues that I see when dealing with interstate couples is deciding where to file for custody. There is an interstate law known as the UCCJEA that states actions should be brought where the child has lived for six months prior to the court case. If the child lives in Minnesota, you cannot normally bring a custody case in Virginia.

     The second major term is Venue. Venue deals with which of the courts is the best one within your area to bring the suit in. This is determined by connections with the surrounding area. For instance, if the child lives in Alexandria, VA for six months, you have jurisdiction in Virginia, and Venue is in Alexandria's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. There is a lot of law surrounding Venue, and it is best to speak with an attorney about this. A case may be transferred if you have the wrong Venue.

     Finally, the most important phrase of all is "the best interests of the child". First and foremost, the Court will always consider the interests of the child to be the most important factor in determining custody or visitation. These interests are written in the law, and your normal family lawyer will be able to tell you exactly what the court will consider when determining what is in the child's best interests.

     In the end, there are a lot of complicated terms used in Family Law. It is always best to get your own attorney to help you. However, this basic understanding will allow you to speak with the attorney to understand what is right for you.