Common Questions Related To Your Child Custody & Visitation Case
Do you have questions about how Virginia laws apply to your situation or what you can do to reach your legal goals after an accident, arrest, or divorce? Our experienced attorneys in Fairfax answer some of the most frequently asked questions from clients here. If you don’t see the answer to your question here, or if you need more information about your rights, reach out to us today at 877-652-1553.
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How is child custody handled if my child is breastfeeding?
The court will prefer that you and your child’s other parent come to an agreement about child custody. However, if you can’t come to an agreement, the court will make a decision about child custody based on the best interests of your child, and breastfeeding may be a factor in the court’s decision.
Breastfeeding May Be Considered in Child Custody Decisions
Nursing moms will not be automatically granted sole custody in Virginia. Instead, the court will consider the evidence presented by the nursing mom and the child’s other parent to determine if breastfeeding is in the best interests of the child. This evidence may include:
- The age of the child and how long the child has been breastfeeding
- Information about whether the child takes a bottle or eats solid food
- Information about how feasible it is for the nursing mom to pump and provide breast milk to the other parent for the child’s feedings
- Medical studies or expert testimony showing the importance of breastfeeding for a baby’s health
- Information about the potential impact on the child if the child is to be weaned
Modifying a Child Custody Agreement When Breastfeeding Ends
At some point, breastfeeding will end, and this will likely be seen as a material change in circumstances by the court. For that reason, a child custody agreement may be modified when a child is no longer nursing or when the non-breastfeeding parent can prove that the nursing mom is breastfeeding in order to keep the current physical custody agreement in place. In order to get the child custody agreement modified, you will need to petition the court and explain the material change in circumstances.
Whether you are creating an initial child custody agreement or are seeking to modify your current child custody agreement, it is important to work with an experienced Fairfax family law attorney who can make sure that your rights are protected. Call us, or reach out to us for an initial consultation about your rights.
What is a guardian ad litem?
The Virginia State Bar (VSB) defines a guardian ad litem (GAL) as “a guardian, usually a lawyer, appointed by the court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party.” During your divorce and child custody case, it’s important to understand what a GAL does, his duties, when one is appointed, and why he’s needed.
Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem
Usually, Virginia family courts prefer not to hear testimony directly from a child, as it can place undue stress on both child and parents. So, a GAL is a court-appointed representative, advocate, and objective observer to speak on behalf of a child in court. However, the duties of a GAL include more than speaking for the child.
Outside the courtroom, a GAL must thoroughly investigate to determine the best interests of the child. Because child custody cases can place stress on every member of a family, a GAL serves to displace some of that stress by assisting the court in making an informed custody decision. A GAL does this by:
- Conducting interviews with the child. Although it’s possible a judge may not honor a child’s wishes, she will take into account what the child wants. A GAL can help family courts decide what’s in a child’s best interests by asking that child about her impression of her parents, her relationship with her parents, how she lives, and how she likes her environment.
- Conducting interviews with the parents. Through this interview, a GAL attempts to get a complete picture of the child’s relationship with each parent. A parent may be asked to describe his relationship with the child, his parenting style, his relationship with the other parent, and the child’s daily routine. GALs hope not to hear either parent speak poorly of the other.
- Conducting interviews with other involved adults. What teachers, pastors, babysitters, and extended family members see is also important to a GAL. These perspectives are an important component of gaining a complete picture of each parent’s relationship with the child.
- Making home visits. Seeing a child in each home environment—with each parent, in her room, and going about her daily routine—is an invaluable piece for building a recommendation for the court.
- Investigating reported problems. If there are any accusations of neglect or abuse, a GAL must investigate these by conducting interviews with family members, speaking with police, and asking the child.
When Does a Court Appoint a Guardian Ad Litem?
Since the duty of a GAL is to step in and provide an objective picture of what may best benefit the child, the court appoints a GAL to a case most commonly when:
- A child has experienced neglect or abuse
- Parents cannot agree on what’s best for the child
- A parent wants to relinquish custody
- A child files for emancipation
- Other instances in which a court feels the child needs better representation
In some cases, it could be prudent for one parent to request the representation of a GAL, since his findings might align with the wishes of that parent. For example, if you want custody to keep your child safe from an abusive ex, a GAL might be able to find evidence that would support your case.
How Should Parents Interact With a Guardian Ad Litem?
If a GAL becomes involved in your cases, treat her with respect. Her opinion of you could directly affect custody proceedings. Here are a few pointers for engaging with a court-appointed GAL:
- When she requests documents or information, be prompt in getting this material to her
- Speak in an even, respectful tone
- Do not speak poorly of your spouse in her presence
- Work with your attorney to develop complete, accurate answers to her questions prior to the interview
- Be engaged with your child
Getting Legal Help
If you need help in your child custody suit or have more questions about the GAL appointed to your case, the legal team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can help. We’ve served our community and worked with families for decades, and we’re available now to speak with you. Start a live online chat on our website to speak with a member of our team.