Tips for Grandparents Seeking Child Custody Abingdon, VA
Child Custody Lawyer Abingdon VA
Virginia does not have specific laws delineating grandparents’ rights; however, both grandparents and step-grandparents may nonetheless be entitled to custody and/or visitation with a grandchild under certain circumstances. Often, family courts allow grandparents (and other interested parties) to join custody petitions with noncustodial parents (i.e., a parent that does not have primary physical custody) if visitation is in the best interests of a child.
Under the Virginia Code, any “person with a legitimate interest” in a child may be awarded visitation or custody after consideration of what is in a child’s best interests, including grandparents and step-grandparents.
If you would like to pursue your grandparent’s rights, we invite you to call our office to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Abingdon, Virginia family law lawyer to learn how we can assist in seeking to obtain a favorable custody or visitation arrangement. Further, we encourage you to read through the following FAQs for information and for tips on increasing the chances of obtaining a successful outcome.
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How Do Virginia Courts Define a Person with a Legitimate Interest?
Virginia Code § 20-124.1 broadly construes “person with a legitimate interest” to include:
- Former stepparents
- Blood relatives
- Family members
- Other individuals with a legitimate interest in a child
By specifically noting that grandparents have a legitimate interest in a child’s life, they are entitled to petition for custody or visitation (provided they make their intentions known to the court). When making such determinations, courts will take into account three primary considerations: the best interests of a child, the parent-child relationship, and any clear and convincing evidence that the presence of other legitimately interested parties will benefit a child.
How Do Virginia Courts Determine What Is in The Best Interests A Child?
Virginia law explicitly provides ten factors that judges must weigh when determining the best interests of a child in custody and visitation matters, including:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
- The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members;
- The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference;
- Any history of (i) family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228; (ii) sexual abuse; (iii) child abuse; or (iv) an act of violence, force, or threat as defined in § 19.2-152.7:1that occurred no earlier than ten years prior to the date a petition is filed.
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
Is It Easier for Grandparents to Obtain Visitation or Child Custody?
There can be countless reasons why a grandparent may seek visitation or custody rights, including (but not limited to) divorce, death, remarriage, abuse, illness, incarceration, or exclusion. Regardless of the reason for fighting for such rights, it is critical to understand that both state and federal courts presume that parental rights overshadow grandparent entitlements.
While grandparents may be legally permitted to request both visitation and custody, the scale of such requests is vastly different. Generally, Virginia courts will award limited visitation to grandparents unless such contact would be physically, mentally, or emotionally harmful to a child. However, custody is only awarded to grandparents in matters where one or both parents are unfit or incapable of taking care of a child. For example, if both parents are severely injured in a car accident and unable to care for their child, or if both parents are incarcerated, the court may consider granting custody to a grandparent.
How Can Grandparents Get Parental Custody in Abingdon, Virginia?
As previously noted, the rights of parents typically supersede those of grandparents in custody and visitation matters. Consequently, the opinions of parents are almost always given greater weight unless there are extenuating circumstances. There are five general situations in which a grandparent may be awarded parental rights over natural or adoptive parents, including:
- Unfitness (If one or both parents are unfit to care for a child (such as if they are incarcerated or have chemical dependency issues))
- Previous Divestiture (A child was previously taken away from their parents by way of an Order of Divestiture)
- Voluntary Relinquishment of Rights (A parent voluntarily gives up child custody)
- Abandonment (A parent legally abandons a child)
- Special Circumstances (Other extraordinary circumstances that may justify taking a child from a parent)
Outside of these circumstances, parents will often retain custody, even if challenged by a grandparent.
Are Grandparents Required to Go to Court to Obtain Custody or Visitation?
Not necessarily. While grandparents commonly petition the court in matters involving custody or visitation, this is not the only method for resolving these types of issues. Often, alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation or arbitration) is a faster and more economical option.
If you would like to seek custody of or visitation with a grandchild, it will be best to seek the counsel of an experienced Abingdon child custody attorney. We invite you to call our firm so that we can listen to the facts of your case and explain all available options for pursuing a favorable outcome.
Call Our Offices to Schedule a Free Consultation with an Abingdon, VA Grandparent Custody Attorney.
Grandparent’s rights are a challenging and highly contentious area of the law that often rely on previous court determinations instead of specific statutes. As such, if you would like to seek custody or visitation, it is critical to consult with an experienced Virginia custody and visitation attorney who is knowledgeable about such cases and well-versed in arguing for grandparent’s rights. We are available to help grandparents, step-grandparents, and other legitimately interested parties obtain custody and/or visitation, protecting special relationships with loved ones.
Call the law offices of Mark T. Hurt today to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can fight to uphold your rights in seeking to protect your relationship with your grandchild.