Dougherty Tobias Iszard, Northern Virginia Law, P.C.

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Custody modification: A two-way street

In an ongoing custody battle, the stakes are high for both parents, and the struggle can be bitter. Fortunately for Virginia residents, custody decisions are not set in stone, and parents can petition the court for changes to support, visitation and other childcare requirements. 

This opportunity may be highly beneficial to parents in certain situations. For example, WUSA reports on one Virginia mother who is struggling to fund a court-ordered trip to Ghana so that her two-year-old son can visit his father. Allegedly, the father became interested in participating in his son's life only after the mother sought child support. Now, she fears losing custody of her son if she is unable to make the trip.

Specifically, Virginia law permits the court to make revisions to a custody order to protect the children involved or accommodate changes in parents' situations. From the date the responding spouse receives notice of this petition, the court may dictate changes to the support order, although this order cannot be altered retroactively.

As in the case described above, a long journey to a foreign country--during which the mother would have no means of supporting herself or her child--arguably may not in the best interests of a young child. Thus, when one spouse is making unreasonable demands, Virginia law allows parents in similarly difficult situations to seek custody modification to protect their children. However, a parent caught in this scenario also must be aware that this approach has the potential to become a double-edged sword. According to Virginia's legal code, if the court perceives that the other party is deliberately and unfairly being denied visitation rights, it may decree a change in custody that favors the other parent.

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