Most parents don't want their children to know that mom and dad are not getting along, but when you are dealing with custody and child support issues, negative feelings and emotions can quickly rise to the surface. It can be hard to put your differences aside when you feel like you are not being treated fairly and someone else isn't holding up their end of the bargain.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with child support and custody arrangements in Virginia is that they exist for the best interests of your children. The court wants to see your children thriving in the proper custody situation and establishes child support orders to help them grow and live in a positive, productive environment.
Determining custody is not like dividing up property in a divorce: Who gets the house and who gets the boat? Your children are human beings with feelings and needs, and it is vital that parents remember that as they make important custody decisions.
Child Custody and Support For New and Existing Orders
Whether you are recently divorced and hoping to create a new, stable arrangement, or you already have child custody and support orders in place but feel frustrated that your ex-partner isn't following the rules, we can help. Our clients face a variety of different issues and roadblocks and Smith Strong has experience dealing with a wide array of child custody, visitation and support issues. Here are some common concerns we hear from people just like you, each day:
- I need the court to create order and structure for this chaos we call a visitation schedule.
- The non-custodial parent hasn't paid his outstanding child support in over six months and I don't know what to do.
- I don't think shared custody is right in this case. Can we prevent that?
- The holidays are so important to me. How do I ensure I get to see the kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning?
- He just got a big promotion, or found someone new, and is no longer interested or engaged in the kids' lives, nor paying his support to the kids.
- I don't want to fight about this and worry every week for the rest of my life; I need this figured out once and for all. What do I do next?
- I am doing all of the work to keep the kids straight, but then my ex-partner is filling their heads with lies and alienating them from me.
- I need an expert who understands the local courts and judges to ensure that we are ready and prepared for our court hearing.
- I'm just tired of the endless stream of demeaning text messages from the co-parent.
Representing Parents from Richmond to Williamsburg, Virginia
Creating child custody, visitation and child support orders can be a very personal process, and having a third party involved to keep things straight is essential. Attorney Van Smith and his team at Smith Strong have been helping Virginia families prepare their child custody, visitation and support cases for a number of years; and hope to add some structure and normalcy to your life, too.
Constant fighting and disagreements are exhausting and no one wants to deal with the stress and uncertainty of that every single day. As a Virginia family law attorney, Van Smith will work with you to bring that peace and calm to your custody and support agreements and make sure you can get back to enjoying the more important things in life—such as your children.
The Stakes are High in Most Child Custody, Visitation and Support Cases
The stakes are raised in child custody, visitation, and support cases.
Time can and oftentimes does heal the wounds an adult may suffer through the transition of a family law matter, but children typically don’t have the emotional fortitude to get through a traumatic separation from parents unscathed.
Study after study suggests the damage to trust and future relationships is real and lasting. So, it’s important to handle child custody, visitation, and support cases delicately.
For parents, this means avoiding parental alienation at all costs. This means, whatever is going on between the parents in court or in the lawyer’s office, upon returning home, the child should remain blissfully ignorant of any parental animus. Parental alienation is typically easy to brush off in the abstract, but a single flash can trigger a brush fire. We’ll explain.
A parent will be cruising along with a stiff upper lip towards the custody battle. Then, in a moment of weakness, perhaps a long day at work, a night of poor sleep, just before dinner, a child will come to that parent and whine about a missed event or a diminished expectation. A parent will break down, wanting to transfer blame. “Well, if you really want to go to that summer camp, ask your father! He apparently doesn’t care about this family!”
That leads to a call, “Dad, how come you don’t care about us?” “What!?” “Well, that’s what Mom said…” And it begins. The pact is broken and the child becomes a new front in the custodial war.
Understand the far-reaching impact of parental alienation and make a commitment: whatever happens or is said between the two of you, to the kids, you and your former spouse are the best parents on the face of the earth. No matter what.
Ten or fifteen years ago in Virginia, fathers could assume that the mother would be almost guaranteed primary custody, and the “every other weekend, two weeks in summer” routine would begin.
Increasingly, shared legal and physical custody is the norm.
The Difference Between Legal & Physical Custody
Think of custody like the trunk of a tree that splits in two—legal and physical.
Legal custody is the portion of custody that relates to important, potentially life-altering decisions that arise in the course of a child’s life. Decisions such as religious preference, public or private school, medical treatments, discipline, and travel, among others.
On the other hand, physical custody at its most elementary level is, with whom is the child spending the day or night? Primary, physical custody represents who has the child the majority of the time.
The number of additional days that a child spends with one parent over the other typically means that the parent with extra time will likely become eligible for more child support. Once one parent has less than 90 days or overnights per year, child support calculations increase for the other parent considerably.
Shared Custodial Arrangements are Increasingly Ordered in Virginia Courts
To generalize, shared custodial arrangements mean that dads are getting more time and paying less in child support than they were even ten years ago, adjusted for inflation.
This kind of arrangement is not guaranteed, of course, but with good legal representation and a clean behavioral background, shared custody is now on the table in most courts in Virginia.
If the idea of shared custody is impossible for you to fathom, and you are facing a resulting custody battle, choose counsel wisely.
To avoid a courtroom drama, you must have a spouse or co-parent who also wants to avoid an irrational battle. Actor Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock fame wrote a book on his own multi-year custody battle. In A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood & Divorce, he details his series of attorneys (until finding the right one), an overwhelmed system that couldn’t effectively process his complicated case with any expediency, and the ravages of parental alienation syndrome on his child.
Whenever possible, as we suggest in our divorce cases, it is best to attempt agreement out of court. In the midst of a divorce, this means additional provisions to outline child visitation, custody, and support within the Marital Settlement Agreement. After a divorce or where the parents never married, custody and visitation issues can be resolved outside of court through a Consent Agreement, that is ratified by the judge in court through a Consent Order.
Where settlement is not possible, an experienced trial attorney who focuses on family law cases is essential. And as in divorce, preparation is key.
- Gather and organize any and all medical and daycare related expenses.
- Keep a detailed journal noting both parents’ time with the child[ren].
- Record any outbursts or signs of aggression.
- Make a list of counselors, therapists or institutions visited by the child[ren] or parents.
- Gather a list of helpful witnesses that can support your case narrative.
- And above all, keep calm in front of the child[ren].
Our firm is in court nearly every week for complex custody cases. While we steer your case towards the goals outlined in that initial consultation, take special care to manage your emotions in front of the children, and ensure the children’s lives remain steady and consistent.
Determining Child Support for Your Family
At Smith Strong, PLC, we maintain sophisticated computer programs that can calculate the child support obligation of each family, based upon the following information, which you can bring to your first consultation with us:
- Monthly gross income of each parent;
- Spousal support payments received or paid;
- Prior child support orders (and arrearages);
- Total child care costs (daycare); and
- Health insurance premiums paid on behalf of the child.
Our firm will also issue subpoena duces tecum (legal requests to send documentation, in this case, related to finances) on the opposing party, ensuring that the other party brings these items to court or sends them to our firm in advance of any court date, where possible.
Call Smith Strong today at 804-325-1245 or 757-941-4298 to discuss your child custody, visitation or support matter further with attorney Van Smith or to schedule a SmartStart Comprehensive Case Preparation Meeting.
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