What Happens When There Are Allegations Of Child Neglect Or Abuse In My Virginia Divorce Or Child Custody Case?
Often times, divorce can be stressful, uncomfortable and sticky. Allegations of infidelity, concealment of assets and other transgressions come to light, and very quickly the whole situation can turn into a he-said, she-said match. Though courts will listen to these arguments when necessary, judges prefer that you leave the bickering at home or at the negotiation table when you are before the court.
However, when it comes to matters involving minor children, nothing is taken more seriously by the court than allegations of child neglect or abuse.
In fact, when making custody and/or timesharing decisions, courts must look to statutory factors listed in Section 20-124.3 of the Virginia Code when determining what is in the best interests of your children. One of these considerations includes whether there has been a history of violent or abusive behavior on the part of either parent. Such conduct can be established through police reports, criminal convictions (of abuse or neglect, or protective orders. But, often times, allegations of child abuse or neglect are brought-up by one parent while offering testimony before the court during litigation.
Though courts are not ignorant to the fact that a parent may make false accusations of child abuse in an effort to serve their case (if you are caught doing this, you will face serious repercussions and will likely be denied the relief you are seeking), the court has an obligation and interest in serving the best interests of your child and must be cautious. Accordingly, when the issue of child abuse is raised, the judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in your case.
The GAL is an independent attorney who will investigate the home and school life of your child, make a determination as to whether there likely is or is not abuse and what custody arrangement is in the best interests of your child, and then will report these findings to the judge in your case – usually in the form of a written report. The GAL may also testify at any hearing in your case so they may be cross examined by you, the other parent or your respective attorneys. The GAL’s main objectives are to determine and advocate for the best interests of your child.
If you suspect that your child is being abused by his or her other parent, or a member of that parent’s household, you should not wait until you are before the court to take action. Contact the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS), division of Child Protective Services (CPS) as soon as possible and report your concerns. CPS can take protective measures, such as obtaining a protective order from the court to prevent further abuse or neglect or require you, the other parent and/or your child to attend therapy with a qualified counselor or therapist. CPS can also conduct an independent investigation into the allegations of abuse and submit its findings to the court.
Similarly, you can ask the court for a protective order yourself, without the assistance of CPS, if you have reason to believe your child is in danger or has been/ is being abused.
While it is always advised to consult with a family law attorney when going through a divorce or child custody/support case, this is especially true when allegations of child neglect or abuse are raised. Your attorney will assist you in dealing with CPS, a GAL if one is appointed and can help you navigate the family law rules and procedures.
If you are going through a divorce or contentious child custody/visitation battle, or have any other family law issue, you should contact a knowledgeable family law attorney right away. The experienced family law attorneys at the DiPietro Family Law Group have decades of experience handling all types of family law matters and are here to help you.
Contact one of the DiPietro family law attorneys today to schedule a consultation with a caring professional at (703) 370 – 5555, or visit us online.
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