A marriage can end for many different reasons. Historically, people who wanted a divorce had to petition a court alleging adultery, abandonment or other criteria. In past generations, this was often far more difficult than it is today, not just with regard to the social and societal pressures and stigmas that came with divorce.
Before a divorce or other legal action involving a court custody order, parents are granted equal rights to the physical custody of the child. Only a court order can change that dynamic. The law in Virginia has long held that parents be treated equally, meaning that there is no automatic preference granted to mothers or fathers. Judges are instructed to make these decisions based on the best interests of the child. For most children, that means regular contact with both parents. The courts consider many factors in making these decisions. A recent law provides one additional consideration judges must weigh.