Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Virginia courts leaning towards shared custody, study says

These days, more people are recognizing the important role a father plays in his child's life. Children need the time and opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with both parents. Therefore, when it comes to divorce and child custody, courts in Virginia and nationwide are increasingly moving away from the presumption that the child's mother should have sole physical custody of the child.

In fact, according to a study performed by Custody X Change, a business that assists parents going through a divorce in the creation of a parenting plan, fathers, on average, are awarded 35 percent of the custody time. However, Virginia fathers see a higher amount of custody time. In Virginia, on average, fathers are awarded 50 percent of custody time.

These statistics reflect a trend to award equal custody time to both parents. According to the study, 40 percent of states aim to award custody in equal amounts to both parents. In fact, the Washington Post reports that in 2017, 25 state legislatures considered bills promoting shared parenting.

Courts in the past used to follow the "tender years" doctrine, which presumed that mothers were the best caretakers of babies and young children. This meant that it was often presumed that mothers should receive custody of their children in a divorce, and fathers would be limited to visitation with the child. However, these days courts generally do not follow the tender years doctrine. Instead, child custody and visitation decisions will be based on the best interests of the child. It is hoped that when the child's best interests are put first, decisions can be made that will promote the child's welfare and allow both of the child's parents to spend a fair amount of time with the child.

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