Guide to the Domestic Relations Services


What People Should Know About
Juvenile Court Services: 


Family Abuse

Custody

Visitation

Support


A Guide to the Domestic Relations Services Office

Fairfax County
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
Address:
4110 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax , Virginia 22030

 

This booklet is designed to help you understand the services available for resolving certain domestic relations problems through the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Keep in mind that this booklet does not give legal advice. Therefore, it cannot substitute for the advice of a lawyer (see below).

 

 

Welcome to the
Fairfax County Juvenile
and Domestic Relations District Court

This booklet was written because we understand that coming to Court can be a stressful experience for anyone:

  • Most people are not familiar with how the Court works or the words or language that the Court uses.

  • Sometimes people have difficulty speaking or understanding English. Additionally, American customs and Court practices may be different from those of other countries.

We hope this booklet is helpful to you. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. If you have any questions or need directions to a Court office, please call 703-246-3040 or use our web site, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/jdr.


Contents

  1. Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
  2. How Do I Start?
  3. What If I Don't Speak English?
  4. Court Hours
  5. Appointment Information
  6. Domestic Violence/Family Abuse
  7. Custody and Visitation
  8. Child Support
  9. Spousal Support
  10. Legal Advice
  11. The Hearing or Trial
  12. After The Hearing or Trial


What Happens at Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court?

The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court handles many kinds of cases, all of which have to do with family problems or cases involving minors or family members.

You may have come to this Court:

  • Because a dispute is occurring between family members. This is called a civil case. Disputes may include custody of child or children,, visitation, or support. They may also include disputes where an adult is physically abusing a family member, certain members of the household or a child. For information about these types of cases, see pages 5 - 9.
  • Because a minor (a person under the age of 18) has been charged with an offense (such as robbery or assault). This is called a criminal case. For general information about or help with a criminal case involving a minor, call 703-246-2495.
  • Because a minor has habitually skipped school, run away from home, or poses a danger to him/herself or others. This is called a status (CHINS) case. CHINS are initials for Child In Need of Services or Child In Need of Supervision. For general information about or help with a status or CHINS case, call 703-246-2495.

The Circuit Court hears major trials and appeals of cases from other courts, issues marriage licenses, and handles divorces and adoptions. The General District Court addresses landlord/tenant problems, evictions, collections, adult traffic offenses, and some criminal cases. Both of these courts are nearby. For general information about or help with cases pending in the Circuit Court or General District Court, contact those courts directly.

In this booklet we will focus only on Civil Cases in the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.


What Is a Civil Case?

Civil cases are usually started by a person(s) wishing to arrange for custody, visitation, or financial support for their children or themselves. Civil cases also may include obtaining a protective order for situations where the petitioner is being physically abused by a family member or by certain members of the household.


How Do I Start?

It is best if you make an appointment to come to the DOMESTIC RELATIONS SERVICES Office of the Court. You can call this office at 703-246-3040 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.


What if I Don't Speak English?

1. Each time you call for an appointment tell us if you are going to bring an interpreter with you or if you are going to need an interpreter.
2. Each time you come for an appointment, a hearing or trial, please ask if there will be an interpreter available so that you understand your rights and responsibilities. If you must cancel or reschedule an appointment or hearing, please be sure to remind the worker to cancel or reschedule the interpreter also.


When Is the Best Time to Come to the Court?

Court hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The best time to come to the Court is as early in the day as possible. Otherwise, there may not be enough time to go through the whole process and you may have to return several times. Mondays, Fridays, and the days before a holiday or school vacation are the busiest days, so try to avoid those days.

To talk about a family abuse situation, it is best to call early in the day to make an appointment. This way you may be able to come in the same day or the next day. Without an appointment, you may have to wait longer to talk to someone. Also, you may not be prepared with all the information you will need for the appointment.
To talk about custody, visitation, or support problems, you should call as soon as possible because it may take two weeks or more before you can meet with an intake counselor.


What Will Happen When I Call for My First Appointment?

When you call for an appointment, we will ask you some questions.
Be sure to:
1. Tell us at this time if you are going to need an interpreter to help you at your appointments.
2. Write down the time and date of your appointment. You will need to make arrangements for child care. One reason for not bringing your children is that you will be talking to a counselor about things your children probably should not hear. Another reason is that some appointments (like those concerning family abuse) may take several hours. Other appointments (like those concerning custody, visitation, and support) usually take about an hour. Appointments may take longer if you need the services of an interpreter.
3. Make a note of what information and documents you need to gather together and bring with you to your appointment.
4. Learn and remember the name on the file. You will need to identify your case by the name on the file whenever you come to the Court about this case. For custody or a visitation case, the file is usually in the child's name. For a support case, give the name of the person paying support.


What Must I Take with Me to Each Appointment?

" Date, time, and directions for your appointment. It is important to be on time. If you are late, the counselor will meet with someone else who is waiting, even if that person did not have an appointment. That means that you will have to wait longer when you get here.
" Plan at least 30 minutes to find parking. It is best to park in the parking garage on the street behind the Courthouse (Page Avenue) so that your car will not be ticketed or towed during your visit to the Court. Parking meters are NOT recommended, as you will not be able to leave the Court to replenish them. Note: Do NOT park in the employee parking lots (all flat lots) or you will be ticketed or towed.
" Information necessary for your case (see pages 7, 10, 11, or 12). Before coming to Court, put all the necessary information in a place where you will not forget it.


What Happens the Day of My Appointment?

When you come to the Courthouse for your appointment, go to the main entrance in the front of the building. Be prepared to walk through a metal detector and to have your bag or briefcase searched by a deputy. Anything that could be used as a weapon will be held by the deputy until you leave the Courthouse.
Once you are in the lobby, go up to the second floor to Domestic Relations in Room 202. Tell the clerk who you are and when your appointment is scheduled. If you don't have an appointment, tell the clerk why you are there. If you have been here before regarding the same case, be sure to identify it by the name on the file.


What Is Family Abuse?

Family abuse (also called domestic violence) is when one member of the household causes physical harm to another, when one person in the household forces sexual activity on another, or when one family member threatens to harm another. It happens between married couples and between couples who aren't married, between the members of the same family or household, between people who are related to each other, and between people who aren't related but who live together (boyfriends and girlfriends, in-laws).
If you are being physically hurt, sexually abused, or threatened by household or family members:

  • You can file criminal charges by getting an assault warrant from a magistrate. The police will tell you how you can do this. However, charges can only be dropped when you have appeared before the judge.
  • In cases of spousal abuse, you can file a civil case by asking this Court for a protective order.
  • You can file both a family abuse case (a civil case) at this Court and an assault case (a criminal case) through a magistrate.
    What Is a Protective Order?

A protective order tells the person to obey certain rules before or after a court hearing. The person can be ordered to have no contact, or limited contact, with you or your children. The Court can order the person to leave your home and stay away for a certain period of time. This means that the person will be arrested or taken to jail if that person does not follow the rules. A protective order is sometimes called a restraining order.
Family abuse is a serious problem. If you are afraid or worried that something else may happen before a protective order takes effect, you should stay with friends or go to a shelter. In an emergency, call 911.
If the person has physically abused children in the home or put the children in danger, Court personnel are required by law to report it to Child Protective Services (CPS).


What Must I Bring to an Appointment about Family Abuse?

1. Information about the person you want to file against (the respondent): first, last, and middle name; race and sex; date of birth and age; height, weight, eye and hair color; social security number; full address; home and work telephone numbers; and the name, address, and telephone number of the respondent's employer. The most important information you MUST bring will be the respondent's home or work address. The law requires that a deputy or process server personally provide the respondent with a summons. The summons notifies the respondent of the hearing (charges, location, date, and time) so that he/she can appear before the judge. If you do not have a proper address for the respondent, you may be denied an appointment. A post office box number is not acceptable.
If the respondent does not appear at the hearing because the summons could not be delivered (incorrect address, moved, etc.) the petition may be dismissed and you will have to repeat the process all over again.

2. The same basic information about you and your children.

3. A list of abusive incidents, describing the most recent one first and then working backwards.

  • For each incident, give the date or approximate date it happened and describe how the person was violent or threatening to you or the children. If your behavior was threatening or violent, describe that also.
  • Tell whether or not the police were called.
  • Note if any criminal charges were filed, or if assault or other warrants have been filed recently. If so, include the date(s) and the time of each hearing or trial.
  • List any injuries that you or others received.

While you are waiting for your appointment, you will be asked to provide some of this information on a Basic Information Sheet. In your meeting with the Intake Counselor, you will tell the counselor what has been happening to you and/or your children and go through your list of incidents. The counselor will ask questions, take notes, and fill out all the proper forms for you.
Once the forms are typed up, the counselor will ask you to read through the information and swear under oath that it is true. If you have trouble reading or understanding English, let the counselor know. You cannot swear that the information is true unless you understand the information on the form. You will be asked to sign the statement. If an interpreter assisted you during the appointment, he or she will also be asked to sign it.

The counselor will then take your request, which is called a petition, for a preliminary protective order to a judge to be signed. You will need to wait until it has been signed. This may take some time because the judge may be busy elsewhere in the Court. You do not talk with a judge on this day-just the counselor.

The judge must determine that you are in danger. If the judge signs the order, the intake counselor will give you a copy of it. The counselor also tells you what will happen at the full hearing on the petition, how to prepare for that hearing, and what information to bring with you to the full hearing. The order will show the date and time of the hearing (scheduled within 15 days of the day the preliminary order was signed by the judge). At this hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant you an order including some or all of what you have requested in your petition. The judge may also decide to continue the case, dismiss the case, or to deny your request altogether. Note: If you do not attend this hearing, the protective order becomes null and void that day.


When Does a Protective Order become Effective?

Even though a judge signs the preliminary protective order, it does not go into effect until it has been given to the person you are filing against. This is called serving or being served. If the person is in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and you give the Court the person's correct home and work address, the Sheriff's Department will serve the person for you free of charge. However, if the person is to be served outside of Virginia, if the person cannot be served in time to arrange to be at Court, or if you want the person served right away, you will have to pay a private process server to do it. The person can be served at home or at work. However, you must have the right address for the person, otherwise, the person cannot be served and the protective order will not go into effect.

Keep the protective order with you at all times. If the person violates (does not obey) the protective order, call 911 and show the order to the police. The person can be arrested for not obeying the order. Remember that a protective order is only a piece of paper. It is not a bodyguard. If you are in danger, call 911.

You must return to Court because a preliminary protective order is temporary and only good until a hearing is held.
What about Custody and Visitation?

If you and your child(ren)'s other parent cannot live together any longer, you have to decide where the children will live. This is called custody. One or the other parent can have sole custody of the children, or the two parents can have shared or joint custody. In some cases, someone other than a parent may have custody.
If the parent who does not have custody wants to spend time with the children, then there must be an arrangement for visitation. This agreement can be formal, with specific days and times listed. It can also be informal, and the parents can discuss visits as they come up
.
If you are filing for a divorce, it is customary for custody, visitation, and support issues to be taken care of in the Circuit Court along with the divorce. If there is no divorce at this time and it is unlikely that you and the other person can come to an agreement on the issues of custody and visitation, you should ask the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to help you.


What Must I Bring to an Appointment about Custody or Visitation?

  1. The home and work addresses of the other parent and that person's social security number.
  2. The present home address for each child and a list of the other places each child has lived during the last five years.
  3. The names and addresses of the person that each child has lived with during the last five years.
  4. If this is not the first time you've been involved in a custody case with these children, you must also bring a copy of the order from the last time you were here. You will need information on the previous case, such as what state, when and in what court.


What about Child Support?

If you have a child or children, you can ask the other parent to pay some of the child(ren)'s expenses. This is called child support. If you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement before your appointment, you may ask for a child support petition. There are special guidelines for child support in Virginia. The counselor will talk to you about how you would like the support payments to be paid.

The counselor will ask you to read a typed copy of the petition and swear under oath that it is true. Tell the intake counselor if you cannot read or understand the petition, otherwise you cannot sign it. After the petition is filed, a clerk schedules a status hearing. Both you and the other person will get the information on the date and time of the status hearing, through service by the Sheriff's Department , if you live in Virginia or by mail, if you live out of state. This is why it is so important to have the right address for that person.


What Must I Bring to Court for a Child Support Hearing ?

1. The home and work addresses of the other parent and that person's social security number.
2. The present home address for each child and a list of the other places each child has lived during the last five years.
3. The names and addresses of the person that each child has lived with during the last five years.
4. If this is not the first time you've been involved in a custody case with these children, you must also bring a copy of the order from the last time you were here. You will need information on the previous case, such as what state, when and in what court.
5. Records of your monthly salary (such as pay stubs).
6. Records of the other parent's monthly salary (such as pay stubs). Sometimes this information may not be readily available to you. This will not prevent you from filing for child support.
7. Your monthly expenses, including unusual medical and dental expenses, work-related child care costs, and medical insurance for the child.
8. The other parent's monthly expenses, including unusual medical and dental expenses, work-related child care costs, and medical insurance for the child., if available.
9. Information about who has custody, how many children there are, and their ages.



What about Support for Me?

If you want the other person to help you pay your monthly bills, you should ask for spousal support. There are no state guidelines for spousal support. However, the Court uses a special formula to come up with a fair amount. Like child support:

  • spousal support is based on income and need.
  • the counselor will talk to you about how you would like the support payments to be paid.


What Must I Bring to a Hearing about Support for Me?

1. The home and work addresses of the other person and that person's social security number.
5. Records of your monthly salary (such as pay stubs).
6. Records of the other person's monthly salary (such as pay stubs). Sometimes this information may not be readily available to you. This will not prevent you from filing for spousal support.
7. Your monthly expenses. including unusual medical and dental expenses, work-related child care costs, and medical insurance for the child.
8. The other person's monthly expenses. , including unusual medical and dental expenses, work-related child care costs, and medical insurance for the child., if available.
9. Information about who has custody, how many children there are, and their ages.


What if There's a Problem with the Child or Spousal Support that Was Ordered?

If you already have a support order, but the other person has not been paying you regularly or on time, you should bring payment records with you. You will need to show how much the other person has paid and when. You also have to show how much support the other person still owes.
If you are asking for a change to an existing order for custody, visitation, or support, you will have to show why it is needed. You'll have to show that the situation has changed and how a change would be better for the child(ren).


Do I Need Legal Advice?

The intake counselor will tell you how to prepare for Court and what information to bring with you. Remember that the counselor cannot give you legal advice. Only an attorney can do that. You must decide for yourself if you should have an attorney. Some people do, some people don't. You may think it is to your benefit to retain an attorney, especially if you think the other person will have one. If you wish to have an attorney, you may call the Fairfax Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at 703-246-3780. A moderate initial fee will be charged for the first consultation with the lawyer. The Legal Services of Northern Virginia may also be contacted at 703-246-4500 or the Potomac Legal Aid Society at 703-538-3975. Make sure to do this as soon as possible because you may not be able to get an attorney in time for the hearing and the hearing may not be able to be postponed or rescheduled.


What Is a Hearing?

A hearing is when the parties involved in the case come before a judge to tell the judge what they want the Court to do. They must also present information or documentation that may persuade the judge to grant their request. After listening to both parties, the judge makes a decision.


How Can I Prepare for the Hearing?

It is important to:

  1. Learn and remember the date, exact time, and the location of your appointment(s) with the Court and your hearings.
  2. Allow enough time (at least 30 minutes) to find parking and to get to the courtroom to which your case has been assigned. The Courthouse has eight (8) courtrooms, each assigned a letter A through H. Courtroom assignments can be changed at any time. Arrive before the scheduled time-not later. Coming to the courtroom late may result in additional penalties! Or the judge may make a decision without you being present!
  3. Bring all necessary documents and make sure that the appropriate people (lawyer, interpreter, and witnesses) are present.
  4. Dress and behave appropriately at all times. Prior to entering the courtroom, remove your hat, discard any chewing gum, and turn off any cell phones or pages.
  5. You may address the judge as "Your Honor."


What Will the Hearing Be Like?

On the day of your hearing, you come back to the Courthouse, at 4110 Chain Bridge Road, in Fairfax. Go to the Third Floor lobby and find the J&DR Information Desk. There the clerk will tell you which courtroom to go to. You must wait in the hallway outside the courtroom until your name is called.

When you enter the courtroom, you will see the judge in the front of the room with a clerk sitting to the side. A deputy sheriff is also in the room to provide security. You sit at one end of the table in front of the judge. If you are using an interpreter and/or an attorney, they will sit with you. The other person involved in the case sits at the other end of the table.
Your case is usually held in private. People outside your courtroom cannot hear what is happening in your case. You can ask that the courtroom doors be locked for privacy and security. There are no microphones in the courtroom. If you want a typed copy of the hearing, you will have to hire a professional court reporter to record the hearing for you.
At the protective order hearing, the judge usually begins by asking if the respondent agrees that the petitioner should have a protective order. If the respondent agrees, the judge enters the protective order right away and the hearing is over. If the respondent does not agree, the judge will proceed to hear from both parties and their witnesses, if any. Then the judge decides whether the conditions or rules of the preliminary protective order should remain the same or if they should be changed. The judge may also decide that a protective order should NOT be issued. If a protective order is issued, a judge may order the respondent to complete a substance abuse program, to attend an anger management class, or to participate in counseling. The judge may also address other issues on a temporary basis (such as temporary custody and/or support), which will be re-determined at a future hearing.

For child support, custody, or visitation cases, the court schedules a short (10 minute) status hearing first. At this hearing, the judge usually asks if the parties agree about what should be ordered. If they do, the judge enters the agreed order right away and the hearing is over. If they do not agree and the judge believes that he or she can fully hear the case from both sides within the allotted time, the judge may go ahead with the hearing, but this usually doesn't happen. Keep in mind that sometimes it takes more than one court date to take care of these issues. At a first hearing, the judge does not listen to any witnesses but may look at some of the relevant documents brought to the hearing by the parties involved. You should give any papers, photographs, or other evidence that the judge should see to the bailiff. It is the bailiff's role to give these items to the judge. You are not allowed to walk in front of the table or go up to the judge yourself.

However, if there has been no agreement and it cannot be taken care of in 10 minutes, it will be necessary to set a date for a trial. Before scheduling a second hearing or trial, the judge will ask how long the parties estimate that it will take. The judge may also:

  • ask you to try mediation to help you come to an agreement and therefore avoid a trial. In mediation, another person, called a mediator, listens to both sides and makes suggestions for a compromise.
  • order temporary visitation while you are waiting the trial. That may happen unless one parent can prove that there is some danger to the child if the visitation is allowed.
  • order you to attend a special class on the needs of children in custody cases.

At the next hearing or trial date, the judge will read the papers that you filed before and may ask you questions. The judge will listen to both sides. It is important to always answer truthfully, be polite, speak clearly, and stay calm.

During the hearing, the parties present any evidence, including testimony from witnesses that may persuade the judge to decide the case in their favor. Make sure to bring any necessary witnesses. Only one witness at a time will be permitted to enter the courtroom. At some point, each witness will be called forward and will sit in the witness chair in the front of the courtroom to the side of the clerk. The witness takes an oath to tell the truth and then answers questions from the judge as well as from any attorneys that may be involved in the case.

Once everyone has said what he or she needs to say, the judge makes a decision. The judge's decision is called an order. It is important that you understand the order. If you have any questions about this order, ask the judge before the hearing ends. You may have to return to the Court another day. Once the clerk has typed the judge's order, the judge may say a few final words to you or your attorney. That is the end of the hearing.


What Happens after the Hearing or Trial?

After you leave the courtroom, follow the signs and go directly to the Post-Court Window. It is also on the third floor. At the window, both you and the other person get a copy of the judge's order that lists what is required of each of you. If the judge has instructed your attorney to prepare the order, you will have to wait to receive the final order in the mail. If you have any questions about this order, please ask your attorney or the clerk at the Post-Court Window. Be sure to do this before you leave the Courthouse.

Once you have a copy of the order, keep the order in a safe place. If it is a protective order, you should carry it with you at all times, as you will have to show it to the police or the Court if there is a violation. If you cannot read the order or do not understand it, call 703-246-3040 or return to Domestic Relations in Room 202 for help.

All of the people who work in the Domestic Relations Services Office are here to help you, whether they are court employees or volunteers. They are all experienced and trained to handle problems regarding family abuse, custody, visitation, and support.
We hope you will not need to come to the Court; but if you do, everyone is ready to help you.


Other Questions?

This booklet is designed to give only general information about the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. If you have further questions about the Court, we encourage you to ask your lawyer, Court staff, or the judge. However, if you have questions concerning legal issues, contact your lawyer.

Do not hesitate to ask.

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW.


Acknowledgements

Members of the Fairfax Bar Association and the staff of the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court initially developed this booklet in 1995. Funding was provided by grants from the American Bar Association and the Fairfax Bar Foundation. Special thanks to those individuals involved in the development of this booklet, including Angie Carrera, Maria Kirlin, Vincent Picciano, Carol Coile, Dave Shaw, and Judge Michael Valentine from the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court; Frank Lillis, Esquire and Brenda Rodriguez, Esquire; and the volunteers of the Volunteer Interpreters Program.

 

Funded by:
Fairfax Bar Foundation
4110 Chain Bridge Road, Room 303
Fairfax, VA 22030
703-246-2740
www.fairfaxbar.org

Revised October 2005


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