Unmarried couples have a less complicated separation process than divorced couples, and typically custody is simplified as well. In Virginia, the mother is usually awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to secure some form of custody. An unwed father may need to establish legal paternity by taking a DNA test before custody will be considered.
The unmarried couple can establish a parenting plan that will be filed with the court, detailing custody and visitation as well as health care, education, religion and how to handle potential changes to the arrangement (someone gets married, someone moves). If the couple cannot agree on the terms above, one or both may request that the judge decide the issues at a contested hearing.
The Court will based it's decisions on custody and visitation using the standard of what is in the best interest of the child and who has been the primary caregiver for the child. Factors considered include the mental/physical health of both parents and child, parent’s lifestyle, parent’s ability to provide food, clothing and shelter, the emotional bond between parent and child, and the child’s preference.
If you’re not sure how you line up with the courts guidelines that grant primary custody, here’s a simple checklist that shows what is taken into consideration when deciding who has been the primary caregiver:
Who was usually responsible for the following:
|Putting to Bed||_____||_____||_____|
|Helping with Homework||_____||_____||_____|
|Taking to Doctor||_____||_____||_____|
|Taking to School||_____||_____||_____|
|Coaching Sports Teams||_____||_____||_____|
|Hosting Play Dates||_____||_____||_____|
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