Non-custodial fathers and their advocates are disappointed by a new bill recently passed in the Virginia General Assembly. Known as House Bill 84, the legislation was originally intended to ensure that more divorces result in joint custody rights for both parents. In fact, father's rights advocates support the bill in its original form.

The bill would have established an assumption that joint legal custody represents a child's best interests unless there is significant reason to believe otherwise. The bill also stipulated that each parent would have physical custody for a minimum of two thirds of the child's time. A former official with Fathers for Virginia and resident of Fairfax County explained that such a bill could have made it easier for fathers to parent their children. "No man can be a father to his children on the basis of seeing them every other weekend," he argued.

However, much of the language that appealed to father's rights advocates was cut from the bill when it was considered by the House Courts of Justice Committee, leaving no mention of joint custody. Now, the bill only says that judges must be clear in explaining their reasons for making a custody or visitation decision. The General Assembly approved the revised bill, sending to Virginia's governor to be signed into law.

Critics of the bill say the amendments counteract the beneficial effects of the original bill. One child custody mediator who supported the original bill argues that the amended legislation "does nothing to change anything of importance. Judges are already supposed to communicate the basis for their decision. So what does this change?"

While Virginia law says that fathers and mothers should be considered equally in custody decisions, data from the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement shows that only 6 percent of fathers are named custodial parents. In most other cases, fathers often received no custody rights other than visitation.

Source: Rappahannock News, "Dads disappointed by child custody changes," Brad Fulton, March 3, 2012