Under Section 20-124.3, the Courts must consider certain factors in determining best interests of a child for purposes of determining custody or visitation arrangements:
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 or sexual abuse. 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.
Factors 6 and 7 are more important than many people realize. In separation and divorce situations, animosity is common. Lack of trust, hurt feelings, resentment are also common. These emotions between two adults can easily spill over into when those two adults must co-parent. If these emotions are not controlled in the co-parenting context, the ability for those parents to do what is necessary under Factors 6 and 7 is jeopardized and the ability to obtain the custody that parent seeks also suffers. Some people can distinguish between adult issues and custody issues; some people benefit from co-parenting counseling to help navigate through having to work with a person who triggers the emotions above. The other factors are important and will be considered as well; but where 6 and 7 require the ongoing relationship between two people who no longer want a relationship, it presents a bigger challenge that must be addressed.