Child Custody in Virginia
As a practicing family law and child custody attorney, there is not a day that goes by where I do not speak with a Father who has given up on being in his child’s life. He has gone through every terrible situation imaginable with the child’s mother and just feels that every time he has tried to fight, he has gotten railroaded. The biggest mistake any father can make is to give up on being in their child’s life.
Never settle for less time
Never settle for minimal parenting time. I can guarantee you that if there is one person in this world that wants you in their life, no matter how hard it is, it is your son or daughter. If there is one thing you should always do, it is fighting to not be just a father, but to be a Daddy. Although you might think it is impossible to get more time with your child, I guarantee you, it is NOT. From a legal perspective, I can state that a father can get so much more than that every other weekend that the mother has limited him to over the past five to ten years.
5 Keys to winning child custody in Virginia for fathers
Let me tell you this. The court’s ultimate goal in a child custody and visitation case it to have both parents equally in the child’s life. In Virginia, there is no presumption that the Mother shall have custody of the child. As a father, if you want to keep fighting and ultimately win in Court, the following are key steps that you need to take:
(1) Document and Log Everything
The first thing a Judge and the opposing side will ask you is to provide a specific time and date of when something happened. If you can name five times back to back in which the mother did not cooperate, you will start to change the viewpoint of the Judge in a custody case. Make sure you start to document and log everything before there is a pending court date. If you wait too long, it will be too late.
(2) Have everything in Writing
Have everything in writing between you and your child’s Mother If your communication is in writing, then it is a lot harder, nearly impossible, for the other party to state that is not what happened. This is especially easy with emails and text messages being the primary method of communication in today’s world. You need to remember that your writings are going to be used also. Every time you write to your child’s mother, please make sure that you ask yourself, “would I want an old white guy reading this.” If she types something to you that is just completely ridiculous and you want to lay into her back, DON’T!! Just simply type “ok.” It will make her madder and she will keep saying things that will negatively impact her in court.
(3) Do not have the perspective that if you do not give in to the mother’s request, you will lose time.
This is one that I hear the most and it is most upsetting, especially when there is a court order in place. If she is threatening to take time away from you, simply state that is not what is in the court order. Once again, have that in writing. If it is court ordered, she cannot take the time away from you. If there is no court order, then save all of this communication for when you file in the future. She is going to have to explain to a Judge why she is threatening you with taking away your parenting time.
(4) Always text the mother requesting more parenting time and updates on the child’s health and school.
This is extremely important. When you have off work, ask the mother if you can have your child. If she says no, it is in writing and you can use this to your benefit in the future. Always ask about your child’s medical treatment. You need to be able to list medical providers, allergies, medication, etc., in court. This same concept applies to school. Remember, you are the biological parent. You have the legal right to talk with your child’s teachers. I have witnessed several fathers suffer because they did not play a key role in the schooling of their child. I understand that it is extremely tough when the Mother outcasts you from the school and medical providers.
(5) Hire the right lawyer for you
It is terrible to say but the truth is that a Judge takes you much more serious with a lawyer by your side in the courtroom. Especially for child custody in Virginia. If you are by yourself and the mother has a lawyer making all of these statements that are against you, the judge is going to believe her every time. Now, how do you pick the right lawyer for you? When you are looking for a lawyer, find one in which you can connect to on a social level. You also want one who demonstrates legal knowledge. You need a lawyer who can really see through what is on the surface of your case by seeing past all of the allegations and accusations the Mother has made against you.
Do these five keys actually work?
These five keys will heavily increase your chances of succeeding as a father in a child custody and visitation case. For example, I had a case where a father had been getting steamrolled in court with his child’s mother for years. Ever since his child was born. He had started to lose hope and honestly, I could not blame him. It is hard to keep pushing for time with your child when the mother keeps filing unfounded protective orders, criminal charges and also took the child psychiatrists
We filed a motion to amend custody and visitation and ended up going to trial over a year after filing. He trusted me and felt like he could finally see a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Together, we fought step by step to get him more and more time. He had an event/time log from when his child was first born up until the day we went to court. Even every email was forwarded to me between him and the mother. He always asked the mother about medical updates and how his child was doing in school. Of course, the mother would not tell him anything but he kept fighting.
We walked into this case with him only court ordered to get every other weekend. Which, only happened 30-40% of the time. As the case went on, of course, he grew frustrated because he was being denied time with his child. But he kept fighting. He moved over four hours to be closer to his child. We later filed motions because he trusted my advice and wanted to be the “Daddy” that he had been denied from being. (for 8 years) When we went to trial and did all the steps that I recommended. I was able to put on the best case for him. We were able to show the judge all of the things that lawyers in the past had struggled to present before. At the end of the trial, we were ultimately able to get him 50/50 custody.
We developed a bond much stronger than any attorney-client relationship. I can say that without a doubt that we became great friends. We were and always will be a team. We hugged numerous times after the judge gave his decision on the case because his dreams of becoming a Daddy had just become a reality. This client does not realize how much I actually learned from him. The fact that he was able to still fight for his child after being pushed to the side for so many years is nothing short of amazing.
The whole point of this is to make dads realize that they do have a chance and they should always fight. Never settle for not being in your child’s life. A child needs both parents. You need to make sure that you will show them that you were fighting for all eighteen years. Even if your child does not realize it now. They will when they are older and that their Father stopped at nothing for them.
Brandon Matthews was born, raised, and currently lives in Chesapeake, Virginia. He graduated from Regent University School of Law in December of 2015. While attending law school, he interned with Pender & Coward, P.C. and was a Judicial Clerk for the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Also, he was a player and the head coach of the Regent Slowpitch Softball National Championship team as well as being an Eagle Award Recipient for his achievement in Law Practice and Technology.
Brandon has been a member of Bush & Taylor, P.C. since graduating from law school and passing the Virginia State Bar Exam. He currently serves as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Suffolk Bar Association. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for The Williams School in Norfolk, Virginia as the lead chair for the Marketing Task Force.
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