Family Law

TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF THE MATTER

If your family is going through a stressful matter, you’ll need a family law attorney you can trust. The Bungard Law Office L.L.C. will work tirelessly to ease your family through any transition it may face. We have the experience and legal knowledge to help ensure you get the counsel you need and deserve. Our personalized service is available to you at an affordable cost.

CHILD CUSTODY

DIVORCE

SEPARATION AGREEMENTS

ADOPTIONS

VISITATION

CHILD SUPPORT

SPOUSAL SUPPORT

ALIMONY

PROTECTIVE ORDERS

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CHANGING YOUR NAME?
WE CAN HELP WITH CONTESTED
AND UNCONTESTED DIVORCE

CHILD CUSTODY IN VIRGINIA


Custody issues can confront people in many different circumstances. Perhaps a custody issue has arisen due to a divorce or maybe two unmarried parents have to decide on which parent will have custody of the child. Regardless of the situation, custody is always a difficult and emotional issue that is rarely solved in one trip to court. One of the most important things to remember regarding custody in Virginia is that the law considers a court’s ruling on custody to be modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. Permitting modification of the custody order allows parents the opportunity to petition the court to make changes to the Order when a significant change has occurred in their lives and family dynamic. Below are some answers to questions that you probably have if you find yourself facing a custody issue:

“What court hears custody disputes?”

Depending on the situation surrounding your custody dispute, either the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court or the Circuit court will have jurisdiction over your case. If the custody issue has arisen from a divorce proceeding then typically the issue will be dealt with in circuit court and if it has arisen outside a divorce, it will be dealt with in juvenile court.

“What is the difference between physical and legal custody and what types of custody arrangements are there?”

Physical custody determines which parent the child will reside with. Legal custody awards a parent or parents the right to have physical custody of the child, to determine and redetermine where and with whom the child shall live, the right and duty to protect, train and discipline the child and to provide the child with food, shelter, education and ordinary medical care. There are several different custody arrangements but the most typical arrangement is where one parent has the physical custody of the child, both parents share joint legal custody of the child and the non-custodial parent has visitation rights with the child. This arrangement is probably the most typical because it provides stability for the child vs. the child moving back and forth from one house to another. It also allows the non-custodial parent to spend quality time with the child and participate in decision making. However, many parents and their children are able to thrive in other custody arrangements such as joint physical and legal custody where the child spends their time equally between both parents. This type of custody arrangement could have varying schedules, maybe the child stays with their mother Sunday through Wednesday and with their Father Wednesday through Saturday or the child simply alternates each week with the parents.

“How does the Court determine what the custody arrangement will be?”

The Court is required to look at what is in the best interests of the child or children. In order to decide what is in the child’s best interest they must consider the following factors:

1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;

2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;

3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;

4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;

5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;

6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;

7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;

8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;

9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and

10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

Uncontested divorces in Virginia

An uncontested divorce is filed on the grounds of separation vs. a contested fault based divorce where one party files on a ground such as adultery, cruelty or desertion. The ability to file an uncontested divorce is hugely desirable for many couples that wish to separate and divorce under the best possible circumstances for themselves and their families. An uncontested divorce protects couples from ever having to see the inside of the courtroom and provides a timely end to a troublesome and difficult situation.

The requirements for filing an uncontested divorce are as follows:

1. Separation: The couple must have been living separate and apart for the required statutory period of either:

a. One year, or
b. If there were no children born of the couple’s marriage and the couple has a signed separation agreement (also known as property settlement agreement) then for six months;

2. All of the issues have been agreed to by the parties; and

3. Child support, spousal support, custody, and/or visitation is either

a. Not Requested; or
b. Agreed in a written and signed agreement.
Important for you to remember if you are separated and intend to file an uncontested divorce:

Resumption of sexual relations or living together will reset the clock on the separation period to zero and the time will be calculated from the last occasion where there was cohabitation.

Separation Agreements

Unlike in other states, there is no such thing as a “legal separation” in Virginia. Virginia law considers a married couple to be separated when there is a physical separation and one of the parties intends that the separation is permanent. Couples wishing to separate and avoid a contested divorce should attempt to enter into a separation agreement so they can resolve all the issues relating to their marriage and avoid the necessity of expensive drawn out divorce litigation. The separation agreement (also known by a variety of other names such as “property settlement agreement” or “marital separation agreement”) is a contract between the married couple and is enforceable in the courts as just that; however after the divorce decree is entered by the Judge then the agreement also becomes a court order allowing the parties to enforce it through filing a contempt of court action. The agreement becoming a court order is especially important because a contempt action can result in the non-complying party receiving a jail sentence from the Judge.

A separation agreement should address as many issues as the parties can come to an agreement on including property distribution, retirement division, spousal support, child support, custody and visitation. The agreement is a binding agreement and the provisions can generally not be modified with the exception of the custody and support sections.

Not all couples that enter into a separation agreement end up divorcing but those that do are able to spare themselves and their families the financial and emotional hardship of a litigated divorce.

ADOPTION

Adoption is a wonderful gift to a child in need of a home and parents. Our agency is experienced in step-parent adoptions, agency adoptions, and close relative adoptions. We’ll ensure the prompt and precise completion of all legal paperwork. Uncontested Step-Parent Adoptions Virginia code section § 63.2-1241 provides the statutory framework for a step-parent adoption. A step parent adoption occurs when a spouse of a birth parent intends to adopt the child. In today’s

Uncontested Step-Parent Adoptions

Virginia code section § 63.2-1241 provides the statutory framework for a step-parent adoption. A step parent adoption occurs when a spouse of a birth parent intends to adopt the child. In today’s society there are many different events and circumstances that give rise to one of the birth parent’s being absent in the child’s life such as: divorce; death of a parent; non-custodial parent is absent from child’s life due to neglect, visitation distance, or disinterest in the child’s life.
A step-parent adoption is procedurally straight forward and involves the non-custodial parent surrendering their parental rights and allowing the adoptive parent to fill their shoes as the new parent. A step-parent adoption is uncontested when the non-custodial parent, custodial parent and adoptive parent are all in agreement on the adoption and the non-custodial parent is willing to sign over his/her parental rights. When all parties are in agreement on the adoption a home study of the adoptive parent’s home is not required and is normally not done. The Court however has the discretion to request a home study if they believe it is warranted.
A step-parent adoption can still be done in face of the non-custodial parent’s unwillingness to surrender their parental rights but the legal process will require a court hearing.

Protective orders

Feel safe by coming to us for action on a protective order. You and your children deserve some peace of mind, and sometimes legal action is needed to ensure it. We can also help with the modification and enforcement of existing orders. We deal with protective orders for Virginia and Maryland clients.

ADDRESS

800 Corporate Drive, Suite 301
Stafford, VA 22554
839 Bestgate Rd., Suite 400
Annapolis, MD 21401

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Annapolis, MD : 410-878-7968
Stafford, VA : 540-446-0357
Mobile: 443-822-6994