Fairfax Family Law Attorney Claudia Zucker On Court Awarded Visitation For Third Parties
"The court shall give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship but may upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served thereby award custody or visitation to any other person with a legitimate interest." – § 20-124.2.(B) of the Virginia Code.
The Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court will grant limited visitation to non-parental third parties if it can be shown that their presence is beneficial to the well being of the child. Per the Virginia Code an interested third party with an interest in the minor child may include:
- Former stepparents
- Blood relatives
- Family members
Unlike many other states, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not have a discrete law granting visitation rights to grandparents who meet specific criteria, but rather relies on the language of the general child custody/visitation law and the discretion of courts like the Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and Circuit Courts to make a determination about all interested parties.
Virginia Case Law Upholding Third-Party Visitation
The Virginia courts have demonstrated a commitment to awarding third-party visitation to grandparents and other "persons with a legitimate interest":
- Thrift v. Baldwin (1996): The Virginia appellate court reversed the lower court's decision to deny the biological grandparents visitation rights based on the theory that adoption legally severed their interest in the child. The appellate court established that grandparents and other blood relatives maintain an interest in the child's well being even after adoption.
- Dotson v. Hylton (1999): Both the lower court and the appellate court agreed that the paternal grandmother be awarded visitation while the child's father was incarcerated.
- Yopp v. Hodges (2004): Both the Virginia trial court and the appellate court agreed that continued visitation with grandparents who played a significant role in raising the child before a falling out with the mother was in his best interest.
- Surles v. Mayer (2006): The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision to deny visitation to the petitioner. In this case the petitioner was a man who was not the child's father, but who had been allowed by the mother to act as a father figure for four years despite the fact that he and she were never married. The appellate court granted visitation on the grounds that the petitioner was a person of legitimate interest.
These examples are only a selection of the case law that affects third-party visitation in Virginia. It's important to note that not every third-party request for visitation is granted by the Virginia family courts.
Family Law Attorneys Representing Parents and Petitioners in Third Party Visitation Claims
Regardless of whether you are a grandparent, blood relative, or other party of legitimate interest, if you are seeking visitation over the protests of one or both of the child's natural parents, you are going to require the services of a reputable and experienced Virginia family law attorney to plead your case. Call a lawyer today to discuss your case.
Virginia Divorce and Family Law Attorney Claudia Zucker
Do you need a family law attorney? Do you have questions about 3rd party or grandparents visitation rights in Virginia? We invite you to contact us today at (703) 596-1005. We're always just a phone call away.