How Domestic Violence Can Impact Child Custody Determinations in Virginia

Domestic violence is a very serious issue. A parent’s momentary loss of control can have long-term emotional, psychological and legal effects on a family. This is particularly true for a divorcing couple who may find themselves in a heated debate over child custody and visitation issues. Not only can a history of emotional or physical abuse affect an initial custody determination, domestic violence can also justify the modification of an existing child custody order.

 

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence goes beyond just physical abuse; it includes emotional/verbal abuse, sexual abuse and threats to harm others. Referred to as “family abuse” in Virginia law, domestic violence is any act [by a family or household member] involving violence, force or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault or bodily injury (Section 16.1-228, Virginia Code). For the purpose of this definition, a family member includes: a current or former spouse, in-laws, children, persons who share a child in common (even if they live apart), and people who have lived together for the past year.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody Determinations

Every child custody and visitation order entered by a court considers, first and foremost, the best physical and emotional interests of the child. When determining a child’s best interests, several factors are taken into account including each parent’s stability, home environment and ability to form a safe and meaningful relationship with the child.

While Virginia courts prefer joint custody arrangements where both parents share physical and legal custody of their child and enjoy frequent visitation, a history of domestic violence can influence a court to deviate from a joint custody plan and restrict the abusive parent’s contact or visitation with his or her child. A judge may order supervised visitation with a minor child or, in extreme cases, terminate an abusive parent’s contact altogether and award the non-abusive parent sole custody.

Supervised Visitation

Under a supervised visitation scheme, an abusive parent is only allowed to visit with his or her child in the presence and supervision of a court-designated third-party, and often times only at an agreed-upon neutral location (not either of the parents’ homes). Supervised visitation is not necessarily a permanent situation; it can be a stepping stone towards unsupervised visitation. However, in order to obtain unsupervised visitation, the abusive parent may need to complete a domestic violence or an anger management class as part of the process of establishing with the court that unsupervised visitation is in the child’s best interest.

If you are concerned that domestic violence may be a factor in your divorce or child custody case, or have any other family law matter, you need to meet with a qualified attorney. The experienced family law attorneys at DiPietro Family Law Group, PLLC know the law and will protect your rights. Contact us to schedule a consultation today at (703) 370 – 5555.

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