In a Custody Battle? Know What to Ask for When You Go to Court


The Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes several different types of custody. If you find yourself in a custody battle, either contentious or not, its helpful to know the legal lingo before you get to Court.

In Virginia, custody is defined in four sub-sections: legal custody v. physical custody and sole custody v. joint custody.

Legal Custody

Legal Custody refers to who will make decisions for the child. These decisions can include but are not limited to where the child will attend school, where the child receives medical care, if the child will be religiously oriented, etc.

Physical Custody

Physical Custody concerns where the child’s primary residence will be maintained.

From there we can look at the more nuisance details of custody: sole custody vs. joint custody.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is when either legal custody, physical custody or both are granted to one parent.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is when both parties share or divide their responsibilities to the child.

But, why does this matter?

It’s important to note that sole and joint custody can each be applied to legal and physical custody. For example, one case may result in sole legal authority to mother, in which the mother makes all the decisions for the child, and joint physical custody to mother and father, which could mean that he child spends equal time with mother and father. Or the parties could be awarded joint legal custody, which means that the parties discuss and decide together what is in the best interest for the child, and primary physical custody to father, which means that the child will reside with the father on a more frequent basis that with the mother.

Each family is unique, which is why no one-custody plan is followed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Additionally, parties do not have to go to trial to enter into one of these flexible custody arrangements. If the parties agree as to who will make decisions for the child and or who the child will live, most Courts will allow the parties to draft a custody order between, which will them be signed by a Judge and become enforceable as a Court order. However, if the parties are not in agreement, and the matter of custody is taken to trial, then it is important to remember that custody is not all or nothing. Refer to the examples above to find which plan works for your family.

If you are in contentious custody battle and are looking for legal assistance, or you are just unsure about what will work for your family, please do not hesitate to reach out to our firm at 804-423-1382 or We would be happy to set you up with a one-on-one consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys an assist you with your case.