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Primary Child Custody Factors in Virginia

Putting your child's fate into someone else's hands isn't easy. Unfortunately, that's the position parents are in when they can't agree on child custody and visitation issues, which leaves the court in the position of making those determinations.

If a parent has "primary custody," it refers to the parent with whom the child lives with after the parents have parted. However, many jurisdictions don't use the term "primary custody." For instance, in Virginia, the term physical custody is used to refer to where the child lives (rather than primary custody).

The "Best Interests of the Child" Standard

Regardless of the type of custody that a party is seeking, all child custody determinations by the court are made using the "best interests of the child" standard. Within this framework, the court will look at parenting patterns that occurred prior to the separation of the parents and will also explore future parenting scenarios.

Primary Child Custody Factors in Virginia at a Glance

Anytime you're involved in a legal dispute, you want to make sure that you understand what the law says and what it means for your case. You can consult with an attorney, but you can also read an unabridged version of the relevant statutes written in plain English. The chart below provides a synopsis of the law that governs Virginia's child custody factors.


Virginia Code Title 20:

  • Section 20-142.2 (court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements)
  • Section 20-142.3 (best interests of the child)

Types of Custody



Virginia recognizes two types of custody distinctions: physical custody and legal custody.

"Physical custody" refers to where the child lives. A parent who has "legal custody" means that the parent has legal right concerning the decision-making rights and responsibilities regarding the child's health care, education, socialization, and religion. Custody is further distinguished by "sole custody" (only one parent has custody) and "joint custody" where both parents share custody.

Joint Custody

The definition of "joint custody" in Virginia includes the following possibilities:

  • 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;
  • Joint physical custody where both parents share physical and custodial care of the child; or
  • Any combination of joint legal and joint physical custody which the court finds to be in the "best interest of the child."

Best Interest of the Child Factors

Virginia uses the following factors:

  • The age and physical and mental condition of the child, given due consideration to the child's changing developmental needs;
  • The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
  • The existing relationship as it exists between the parent and the child;
  • The needs of the child, including other relationships important to the child (siblings, peers, extended family);
  • The role that each parent plays in child's upbringing;
  • The ability to resolve disputes regarding the child;
  • The child's preference;
  • Any history of family abuse or sexual abuse; and
  • Other factors that the court finds necessary in the determination.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Primary Child Custody Factors in Virginia: Related Resources

Discuss Primary Custody Factors with a Virginia Attorney

If you're in a custody dispute involving your child, you want to make sure that you do everything you can to bolster your case. A skilled child custody attorney will work with you on identifying the next steps to take.

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