Virginia lags behind the nation in adopting a default shared parenting standard that has become popular and the norm in other states. Attorney Van Smith has consulted with the Executive Committee of the National Parents Association to serve as a resource in creatively re-thinking about how custody patterns are arranged in Virginia.
Current Custody Standard in Virginia
Currently, the Virginia Code states that the court will give primary consideration to the best interests of the child when making their ruling about custody. With the current standard, there is no rebuttable presumption that the parents will have equal custody of their children.
Recommending an “Equal Visitation” Standard
Just as equitable distribution of assets is common in divorce proceedings, Attorney Van Smith recommends considering an equitable visitation standard based on the best interest of the child. He suggests that the default standard should be shared parenting, but the court should award more or less time to the mom or dad depending on the facts of the case.
Current Court Experience
The experience of many Smith Strong attorneys has proved that courts usually work from a primary/secondary custodian standard rather than a shared parenting standard. This means that currently the courts tend to give one parent (the primary parent) significantly more time with the children than the other parent (the secondary parent) receives. It is important to note that for some families this primary/secondary custodian model may still be appropriate and applicable, but it will depend on the facts of the case.
Time to Consider Reform to Custody Standard?
According to Van Smith, it may be time to critically examine the default custody rules in Virginia. The 2016 General Assembly legislative season will bring a shared parenting amendment to the current Virginia custody statute.