Divorce can be extremely difficult for children to understand and accept, and parents who live apart and effectively co-parent face unique and sometimes complicated issues. Communication and cooperation between the parents is of the utmost importance because the welfare and well-being of the children will depend on it, and the parents owe it to their children to make their separation and divorce as stress and pain free as possible.
When the parents communicate about the children, potential problems are identified and avoided early on, before a little problem becomes a big one. The parties who successfully co-parent can communicate with each other and make plans and decisions that are in the best interests of the children. The parties need to remember that all children, regardless of divorce, deserve parents who will work together and act in the interests of the children.
Some of the issues regarding the children of the parties that generally arise during a divorce are as follows:
1. Legal Custody. This is usually shared by the parents regardless of which parent the children live with. Parents who share legal custody are supposed to communicate with each other regarding the welfare of the children and make decisions together about the large and important issues in the child’s life;
2. Physical Custody. This term is used to describe the parent that the children will live with the majority of the time. The physical custodian makes decisions about the children that are a routine or day to day nature;
3. Shared Custody. This term is used to describe a situation where the parents share physical custody of the children. This is sometimes done so that the children are with each parent week on and week off, or the week is divided in some manner that works for the parties;
4. Visitation. If one parent has primary physical custody (i.e. not shared) then the other parent will have visitation, usually every other weekend and a mid-week visitation every week that can be a few hours or another overnight. When the visitation parent lives out of state or very far away often the visitation occurs during the entire summer break and during the holiday breaks. Holidays are also divided in some manner in a normal visitation situation;
5. Child Support. In Virginia child support is calculated on child support guidelines based on the monthly gross income of the parties, the costs of medical insurance of the children, the costs of work related daycare expenses of the parents, and any extraordinary conditions that may exist. The Virginia Child Support Guidelines are considered to be presumptively correct however the parties may decide on an amount different from the guidelines based on their own circumstances;
6. Permanence of Child Custody and Support. Child custody and support orders are never permanent, and can be changed by the judge when there is a change of circumstances that is significant from the situation at the time of the previous court order. Additionally, Property Settlement Agreements in Virginia are binding upon the Court and the parties except in the areas of child custody and support. The judge will always consider a prior agreement of the parties regarding these issues, but is not bound by those agreements. The best interests of the child are always the primary consideration in custody cases, and child support is owed to the children buy the parents, and not from the parents to each other. Therefore the Judge and the Court are not bound by agreements of the parents in those areas.