There are rules about which City or County should handle family law cases. The idea of which courthouse to go to is called “venue.” The venue rules tell you where to file your case.
For example, divorces should be filed in the city or county where the parties last lived together or where the defendant is currently living. Either one is acceptable. In child custody cases where someone is filing a petition for the first time, the case should be filed in the City or County where the child is living.
The venue rules are not always strictly enforced and, if no one objects, a court that is not the proper venue can go ahead and handle the case. A good example of this is the practice of the Norfolk Circuit Court of handling uncontested divorces regardless of whether the parties qualify for venue in Norfolk.
Once the courts of a particular City or County have begun dealing with a particular case, they will continue to do so until a judge signs an order transferring anything that may later come up to a different locality. Again, the Norfolk Circuit Court provides a useful example. The final decrees in cases where Norfolk was not the venue specified by the rules, the judges require that the final decree transfer all future matters that may later come up to the court specified by the rules.
It can happen that a custody case will be handled by a Juvenile Court in one city and then the custodial parent moves to a different place in Virginia. If the parties still have issues that have to be resolved by a judge, the party who has moved may ask for the case to be transferred to the Juvenile Court for the area where their new home is located. Because this change of venue will result in a new judge making the decisions, it can lead to a different rulings on custody and visitation that result in a different balance between the parents.
For example, in one case the children were living with the mother in Norfolk. A Norfolk judge awarded custody of the parties’ two sons to the father. The children then moved to another part of the state where the father lived and the issue of custody and visitation was transferred to the Juvenile Court there. Within two years, the new judge transferred custody to the mother.
Except for the two parents, the entire cast of characters had to change because of the transfer. The mother and the father had to hire new lawyers and neither the new judge nor the new guardian ad litem for the children knew the family. The change permitted the mother to minimize the issues that influenced the first decision and obtain a much more favorable ruling.