There is a common misconception today that judges tend to rule in favor of mothers in granting custody or handling custody disputes. However, the state of Virginia does not have a presumption of custody rights for mothers. Fathers and mothers have equal rights to gain custody of their children, and the court determines what is in the best interest of the kids based on many other factors. It is important for fathers in Virginia to understand what rights they have and how to proceed with custody issues.
Understanding Fathers’ Rights
Before the 1970s, full custody of children was usually always granted to the mother in divorce cases. Also, fathers did not have custody rights if they were not married to the mother of the baby at the time of birth. The Fathers’ Rights Movement started and gained momentum as roles shifted and society started recognizing the importance of children having their fathers in their lives. Today, there are multiple organizations that advocate for unmarried or divorced fathers who want to be a part of their kids’ lives.
Importance of Fathers’ Rights in Virginia
Custody is the main issue related to fathers’ rights in Virginia. Because of how the courts now carefully consider what is in the best interest of the children, fathers can gain partial, shared, or primary custody of their kids. Custody depends on multiple factors that a judge must consider, such as the relationship between each parent and each child, the role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child, and more. In addition to sharing custody, there are other reasons why fathers’ rights are important for men in Virginia. These are some examples.
Obtaining Child Support
When one parent is granted primary custody of a child, the other parent must usually provide child support payments to help share the cost of raising the child. In the past, women usually received child support from fathers since men were the primary earners. Today, there are more women in the workforce, and a father who is granted shared or primary custody of children may be eligible to collect child support from the mother if she earns substantially more income.
Enforcing Child Support
Getting a court order for child support is the first step for men who need it, but enforcing it can be a challenge in some cases. When the other parent of the child does not want to pay the ordered child support, getting the court involved may be necessary. Virginia has a Department of Child Support Enforcement that may become involved and take steps to collect child support payments.
Today, it is much more common for people to have children together without getting married. More than 40% of babies today are born to unmarried fathers and mothers. Whether they live with their partners or not, many fathers want to be a part of their kids’ lives. If a man whose child is not born yet or was just born wants to have a better chance at gaining fair custody, it is important to establish paternity. While this can’t be done until after a baby is born, a father can file a petition prior to the birth. A petition does not guarantee custody. However, it is an important step. Men who believe they fathered a child should contact the Virginia Department of Social Services to register with the Putative Father Registry. Failing to do so may waive paternal rights. However, there may be exceptions in cases where fathers were fraudulently misled by the mother.
Laws Protecting Fathers in Virginia
Although some of the factors outlined in Section 20-124.3 of the Virginia Code indicate that the primary caregiver has favor in custody cases, there is no presumption in favor of the mother or father. For example, if the mother stays home and cares for the children, the court will not automatically grant her primary custody because she has historically spent more time with the kids. In cases where women were the primary caregivers and men were the primary financial providers, it is not uncommon for the court to grant the father shared custody, or even primary custody where the situation warrants it. Prior court opinions show that it is an inherent error to make custody decisions based solely on the amount of time a parent has previously spent with the children. Instead, relationship quality and the benefits that come from the time a parent does spend with the child are given primary consideration.
The factors courts consider when they make custody decisions are outlined in Section 20-143.3 of the Virginia Code. Courts favor continuing and frequent contacts with both parents and their children because of the beneficial impact it has on the lives of the children. Also, the courts favor shared legal custody, which means both parents have the right to participate in major decisions affecting a child.
Finding Help for Fathers’ Rights Issues in Virginia
Courts must consider all evidence and factors presented in each individual case when they decide on specific custody arrangements, which they have complete discretion to construct. Because of how complex these cases can be, it is important for any father to work with an attorney who is knowledgeable about fathers’ rights. Today, Virginia courts recognize that the father’s role in the child’s life is critical for both social and cognitive development. Our law firm also recognizes this, and we have handled many cases related to fathers’ rights issues. If you are a father in Virginia who needs help with establishing paternity, seeking custody, enforcing child support, or something else, please contact MDB Law.