Legal Question in Family Law in Virginia

Child custody agreements

My son has a divorce agreement and child custody agreement that has been going well for several years. Circumstances in his life have changed and he would like to renegotiate these agreements but hits a brick wall as far as social services goes and the courts as they all seem to be against the father. He is not a deadbeat dad. He eagerly shares in his son's upbringing and gladly supports him even doing so when they first separated and no official agreement was signed. Now he needs to renegotiate as he is going back to school, will be changing jobs or at least working different hours (so less money) and his free time to see his son will change. We can't find anyone to talk to about this since he is not the custodial parent. Who can we see? He doesn't have much money for lawyer fees either.

Asked on 8/22/01, 4:56 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Glenn R. Tankersley Regency Legal Clinic

Re: Child custody agreements

Well, now, let's see how many roadblocks we can construct for him.

You say he "hits a brick wall as far as social services goes and the courts as they all seem to be against the father."

First of all, social services has little or nothing to do with the final decision as to custody/visitation. Although they are often called upon to do a home study (interviews and a report to the court), the final decision rests with the judge, generally in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. Of course, J&DR Court decisions are appealable to the Circuit Court and Circuit Court decisions are appealable to the Court of Appeals and Court of Appeals decisions are appealable to the Virginia Supreme Court.

But, then, as you say the courts "all seem to be against the father." Perhaps you have been going to different courts than I have for the past 25 years. The courts I have been going to have been pretty much even handed as between fathers and mothers.

And, then, to top off his troubles, "He doesn't have much money for lawyer fees either."

Since the courts often act based upon the reports of social services and since lawyers often are employed by one side or the other to argue from the social reports AND the actual evidence, it would seem that your son, to hear you tell it, is in a pretty hopeless position.

I guess all that leaves is the power of prayer.

On the other hand, you could abandon this totally negative attitude that seems to have been instilled in you (hopefully NOT in your son) and attack the problem as a legal and factual one.

The burden of proof for a change in the court's custody/visitation order rests on the person seeking the change. If your son wants more visitation or even custody, he has to have some evidence justifying it. A voluntary lowering of his income, even to go to school, may or may NOT result in a lowering of child support. It depends on the attitude of the judge deciding the case. Some sympathize; some don't.

The first thing I would suggest is that he, if he has it, and the family supporting him, which obviously does, can the negativity and accentuate the positive.

And, to be perfectly frank, if you want to get favorable results in an effort to get out of a jungle and back into civilization, you hire a guide, preferably a native, to lead you down the right paths.

If you want to get favorable results in the legal jungle, you save up and pony up the money to hire a good lawyer.

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Answered on 8/24/01, 10:18 pm

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