How to File for Child Custody in Virginia
Verify that you meet the residency laws for Virginia custody cases. The child must have lived in the state for at least six months before you can file a petition for custody. You should file in the county (and state) where the child last lived for at least six consecutive months. This is called the "home county" or ("home state"). If you file your petition in the wrong county (or state), it still may be heard there. Should the opposing party object, the case is likely to be transferred to the proper county (and state).
For instance, if the child lived in Williamsburg for the past six months, you can go to James City County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, located at 5201 Monticello Avenue.
Contact the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court in your county and make an appointment to obtain custody forms. If you are filing as part of a divorce or separation, contact the Circuit Court and ask if they have forms available.
If you want to file custody at James City County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, you can download most of the forms at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/jdrcourt.html
Prepare a custody petition emphasizing the factors that Virginia uses to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Virginia law dictates factors that judges must consider in awarding custody, which includes the child’s age and physical and mental condition, the parents’ ages as well as their physical and mental conditions, the parent-child relationships, the child’s relationship with siblings and extended family, each parent's’ history as caregiver, each parent's willingness to support the child’s bond with the other parent, the child’s preference, and any history of family abuse. [Usually the clerk in court will be able to give you a template.]
In the case of Domestic Violence, a court might deviate from a joint custody plan and restrict the abusive parent’s contact or visitation with his or her child. A judge may order supervised visitation with a minor child or, in extreme cases, terminate an abusive parent’s contact altogether and award the non-abusive parent sole custody.
Under a supervised visitation scheme, an abusive parent is only allowed to visit with his or her child in the presence and supervision of a court-designated third-party, and often times only at an agreed-upon neutral location (not either of the parents’ homes). Supervised visitation is not necessarily a permanent situation; it can be a stepping stone towards unsupervised visitation. However, in order to obtain unsupervised visitation, the abusive parent may need to complete a domestic violence or an anger management class as part of the process of establishing with the court that unsupervised visitation is in the child’s best interest.
Supervised visitation and custody exchanges in the region of James City County can be hosted by Avalon Youth Services in Williamsburg. Contact AYS at (757)258-9369 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with inquiries about services.
Complete an affidavit that provides information required by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, which is enforced in Virginia. The affidavit should include: the addresses where the child has lived, who else lived in the home, the primary caretaker at each location, and any court cases that have involved the child.
The Virginia form can be found at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/dc620.pdf
Prepare a summons, which informs the other party of the deadline to answer your petition. In some counties, the court will prepare this document for you.
Sign all documents in the presence of a notary public or court official. If you have hired a lawyer, the attorney can sign the forms for you.
File these documents with the J&DR Court or the Circuit Court. Present three copies of all documents to the clerk for filing – one for the court, one for you, and one for the other party. Typically, the court clerk will assign the date, time, and place of the first court hearing so that the other parent will have this information when served with the documents.
Pay the filing fee. If you cannot afford the filing fee, ask the court for an affidavit to request a waiver; “Affidavit in Support of Application for Proceeding in Custody or Visitation Cases without Payment of Filing Fees.” This also is called “Form DC-606.” You can download it at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/dc606.pdf
Have the documents served to the other parent by a law enforcement officer or process server. If the other parent lives out of state, the court clerk can mail the documents, or you can arrange to have them personally delivered. If you do not know where the other parent is, you may have to publish a notice in a newspaper.
File a document with the court to verify that the other parent has been properly served.
What will happen after you finished all the steps?
Your petition usually will be heard within several weeks. All parties in contested custody cases, in both the J&DR Court and in Circuit Court divorces, must attend a four hour long parenting education class. This means that at the first hearing, the judge usually will enter a temporary custody and visitation order. The judge will also enter an order requiring the parenting class. If you don’t attend the parenting class, you are not very likely to get or keep custody. The Order will also set a date for another hearing in several months.
The judge may appoint an attorney, called a Guardian Ad Litem, to represent the child. The judge may order the Department of Social Services (DSS) to do Home Studies. This is a report by DSS on you and your home surroundings. The judge also may appoint a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA Worker) to do an investigation.