Under Virginia and Maryland law, both natural parents are the presumed natural custodians of their children. The law does not favor either the mother or father and considers the “best interest” of the child standard when determining child custody and visitation.

Child custody laws are very similar from state to state, mainly due to the adoption of the Uniform Child Custody Act, which helps enforcement efforts across state lines.

Child custody has two components: legal and physical.

Legal Custody involves the right to make long-term plans and decisions for the education, religious training, discipline, non-emergency medical care and other matters of major significance concerning the child’s welfare.

Physical Custody involves spending time with the child and making decisions about the child’s everyday needs.

The court may order legal and physical custody in a number of ways.

Joint Legal Custody: where both parents retain responsibility for the care and authority of the child, even if the child has only one primary residence. Additionally, one parent may be given “tie-breaking” authority (the final word in cases of disagreement), or each parent may have certain areas of decision-making authority.

Joint Physical Custody: where the parents share physical custody and care of the child (usually by alternating weeks, months, etc.), and the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of the time with each parent.

Sole Custody: just one parent has physical and legal custody; the non-custodial parent in this arrangement may seek visitation.

The noncustodial parent is legally entitled to visitation with his or her child unless it is determined that this would be detrimental to the child (for example, if the noncustodial parent has been convicted of child abuse). The judge will order a visitation schedule if the parents are unable to agree on one.

Custody and visitation arrangements are never permanent. As situations change, a parent can always petition the Court to modify a Court order.