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.

If you would like to file for visitation with your children, you must call the Domestic Relations Unit of the Juvenile Court for an appointment. The phone number is 703-246-3040. Because there is paper work which must be completed prior to the appointment, we ask that you be prepared to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time.

Legal Definition of Visitation

A. In cases involving the custody, visitation or support of a child pursuant to subdivision A.3 of § 16.1-241, the court may make any order of disposition to protect the welfare of the child and family as may be made by the circuit court. The parties to any petition where a child whose custody, visitation, or support is contested shall show proof that they have attended within the 12 months prior to their court appearance or that they shall attend within 45 days thereafter an educational seminar or other like program conducted by a qualified person or organization approved by the court. The court may require the parties to attend such seminar or program in uncontested cases only if the court finds good cause. The seminar or other program shall be a minimum of four hours in length and shall address the effects of separation or divorce on children, parenting responsibilities, options for conflict resolution and financial responsibilities. Once a party has completed one educational seminar or other like program, the required completion of additional programs shall be at the court's discretion. Parties under this section shall include natural or adoptive parents of the child, or any person with a legitimate interest as defined in § 20-124.1. The fee charged a party for participation in such program shall be based on the party's ability to pay; however, no fee in excess of $50 may be charged. Whenever possible, before participating in mediation or alternative dispute resolution to address custody, visitation or support, each party shall have attended the educational seminar or other like program. The court may grant an exemption from attendance of such program for good cause shown or if there is no program reasonably available. Other than statements or admissions by a party admitting criminal activity or child abuse or neglect, no statement or admission by a party in such seminar or program shall be admissible into evidence in any subsequent proceeding. If support is ordered for a child, the order shall also provide that support will continue to be paid for a child over the age of 18 who is (i) a full-time high school student, (ii) not self-supporting, and (iii) living in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support, until the child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. The court may also order the continuation of support for any child over the age of 18 who is (a) severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled, (b) unable to live independently and support himself, and (c) resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support.

B. In any case involving the custody or visitation of a child, the court may award custody upon petition to any party with a legitimate interest therein, including, but not limited to, grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents, blood relatives and family members. The term "legitimate interest" shall be broadly construed to accommodate the best interest of the child. The authority of the juvenile court to consider a petition involving the custody of a child shall not be proscribed or limited where the custody of the child has previously been awarded to a local board of social services.

C. In any determination of support obligation under this section, the support obligation as it becomes due and unpaid creates a judgment by operation of law. Such judgment becomes a lien against real estate only when docketed in the county or city where such real estate is located. Nothing herein shall be construed to alter or amend the process of attachment of any lien on personal property.

D. In cases involving charges for desertion, abandonment or failure to provide support by any person in violation of law, disposition shall be made in accordance with Chapter 5 (§ 20-61 et seq.) of Title 20.

E. In cases involving a spouse who seeks spousal support after having separated from his spouse, the court may enter any appropriate order to protect the welfare of the spouse seeking support.

F. In any case or proceeding involving the custody or visitation of a child, the court shall consider the best interest of the child, including the considerations for determining custody and visitation set forth in Chapter 6.1 (§ 20-124.1 et seq.) of Title 20.

G. In any proceeding before the court for custody or visitation of a child, the court may order a custody or a psychological evaluation of any parent, guardian, legal custodian or person standing in loco parentis to the child, if the court finds such evaluation would assist it in its determination. The court may enter such orders as it deems appropriate for the payment of the costs of the evaluation by the parties.

H. When deemed appropriate by the court in any custody or visitation matter, the court may order drug testing of any parent, guardian, legal custodian or person standing in loco parentis to the child. The court may enter such orders as it deems appropriate for the payment of the costs of the testing by the parties.

(1991, c. 534; 1992, cc. 585, 716, 742; 1994, c. 769; 1996, cc. 767, 879, 884; 2000, c. 586; 2002, c. 300; 2003, cc. 31, 45; 2004, c. 732.)

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