Custody & Visitation


  • Filing to Establish Custody/Visitation or to Modify an Existing Order:

- Initial custody and/or visitation Petitions can be filed directly by an attorney with the Court.  Petitioners without an attorney must, however, file through the Intake Office.  If you get a petition from the Intake Office, you must bring it to the Clerk’s Office.

  • Directions to the INTAKE OFFICE & JUVENILE PROBATION from J&DR Court: 

- When you leave the Courthouse, turn left on Cameron Street and then turn left on West Street and proceed South. Cross Davis Street and enter the brick building on the corner through the side entrance on West Street.  Go to the 2nd floor.

- If there has been a prior custody or visitation Order, the person seeking a change or modification may be able to file directly with the J&DR Clerk’s Office.  You may be referred to mediation and may be required to complete a parenting class.

  • The Factors to be Considered

- Between a mother and a father, the law does not presume either to be a better parent and thereby entitled to custody.  The Court must determine what is in the “best interests” of the child.  In determining the best interests of a child for purposes of determining custody or visitation arrangements Section 20-124.3 requires that the court shall consider the following:

1.) The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child's changing developmental needs;

2.) The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;

3. 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; 

4.) 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;

5.) The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;

6.) 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;

7.) 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;

8.) 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;

9.) Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and

10.) Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination. 

  • The Types of Custody 

- Section 20-124.1 of the Virginia Code provides definitions for various types of custody.  Litigants will need to read their custody Order, however, because the Order may have a different definition than the one used in the Code.  In case of a difference between the definition in the Order and the definition in Section 20-124.1, the definition in the Order will be the one used. 

- "Joint custody" means (i) joint legal custody where both parents retain joint responsibility for the care and control of the child and joint authority to make decisions concerning the child even though the child's primary residence may be with only one parent, (ii) joint physical custody where both parents share physical and custodial care of the child, or (iii) any combination of joint legal and joint physical custody which the court deems to be in the best interest of the child.

- "Sole custody" means that one person retains responsibility for the care and control of a child and has primary authority to make decisions concerning the child.

- While Virginia has not developed model parenting plans, other states have done so.  Examples of parenting plans developed by the State of Arizona that are based upon the age and developmental needs of children can be found at:

  • What if the Person Asking for Custody/Visitation Is Not a Parent?

- 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.

- When a parent and a non-parent have competing claims in a custody hearing, the Court is generally required to give the parent preference.  The factors for the Court to consider when evaluating the custody claims of a parent and a non-parent are the following: (1) is the parent unfit, (2) has there been a previous order of divestiture, (3) has there been a voluntary relinquishment of the child, (4) has the child been abandoned or (5) are there special facts constituting an extraordinary reason for taking the child from the parent.  The non-parent must prove one or more of these factors by a clear and convincing standard.  See Bailes v. Sours, 231 Va. 96 (1986). 

- When a non-parent is seeking visitation and both parents oppose granting visitation to the non-parent, the court has to find that withholding visitation would cause actual harm to the child before the Court can consider what is in the best interests of the child.  See Williams v. Williams, 256 Va. 19 (1998).


     What if I have a custody or visitation Order from another State?


If you and the child live in the County of Culpeper, you may bring a certified copy of the custody order entered in another state to the Culpeper J&DR Clerk's Office for registration.  Notice will be given to all other parties of your request to register the Order.  Once the order has been registered, you may file a Motion to Amend the Order or a show cause for violation of the Order.


  • Forms:

- Orders and forms used by the Culpeper J&DR Court can be seen by clicking on "Supreme Court Forms and Culpepepr JDR Forms" to the left.