How to File a Petition for Visitation in Virginia

By Heather Frances J.D.

Portrait of a father and daughter

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Virginia recognizes that it can be very important for a child to maintain ties with both parents even after the parents split up, so Virginia courts can enter orders allowing visitation rights. Since circumstances may change after a visitation order is entered, courts can also modify existing orders to suit the new situation if a modification is in the best interests of the child.

Visitation Rights

When one parent has physical custody, visitation is typically granted to the other parent as part of the custody order. However, in Virginia, visitation is not just limited to biological parents. Mothers, fathers, legal guardians and any other person with a legitimate interest in visitation may file for custody or visitation.

Type of Petition to File

If there is no prior court order addressing your visitation with the child, you have to file a petition for visitation with the court that has jurisdiction to hear the case. The Court Services Unit of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in the county where the child resides is the appropriate place to file your petition if the child has lived in that county for six months or more.

If you want to change an existing visitation order, you must file a Motion to Amend or Review Order with the court that has jurisdiction over the case, which is usually the court that granted the original order, either the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court or Circuit Court.

Petition Process

When you file your petition, you will need to provide the court with certain information such as identity information of both parents and the child, any separation agreements that deal with the child, any protective orders that have been entered and any previous visitation or custody orders. Once you file your petition, you must serve the other parent with copies of your filing. If this is your first case about custody or visitation, you and the other parent must also attend a parent education seminar.

Visitation Agreement

You may be able to reach a visitation agreement with the other parent and present it to the court; the court will typically grant visitation based on such a joint agreement. If you cannot reach an agreement, the court may order a home study and psychological evaluation as well as court hearings to help the court decide the most appropriate custody and visitation arrangement.

Best Interests

The court must make its custody and visitation decision based on what it determines to be in the best interests of the child. Under Virginia law, the court must consider several factors before reaching its decision. These include the age and maturity of the child, the age and physical condition of the parents, the child’s relationship with the parents, the child’s relationships with other family members, the willingness and ability of each parent to maintain a close relationship with the child, the child’s preference and any history of family abuse. The court can also consider any other factors it deems necessary to make a proper determination.