No one doubts that domestic violence is a very serious issue. Even one second of lost control, one bad day, one moment can change the family dynamic forever, and can even have serious psychological and legal consequences. This is particularly true when it comes to divorce, where a couple finds themselves in a disagreement over child custody and visitation. Not only can a history of abuse affect child custody decisions, occurrences of domestic violence can even result in the modification of an existing child custody, visitation and/or support order.
Domestic violence goes beyond just physical abuse; it includes emotional/verbal abuse, sexual abuse and threatening to harm or cause abuse. Virginia defines domestic violence as an action by a family member involving violence, force or threats which cause physical injury or reasonable fear of physical injury to an adult or child. For the purpose of this definition, a family member includes: a current or former spouse, in-laws, persons that share guardianship of a child (even if they live apart), roommates, and people who have lived together for the past year.
How Does Domestic Violence Impact Child Custody Determinations?
Every child custody and visitation order entered by a court is based on the best physical and emotional interests of the child, and the child only. 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 marked by frequent visitation for noncustodial parents, a pattern of domestic violence will cause a court to deviate from a joint custody plan to restrict and/or altogether prohibit the abusive parent’s contact with his or her child. A judge may order supervised visitation or, in extreme cases, terminate an abusive parent’s parental rights entirely.
Under a supervised visitation schedule, 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 is typically a building block towards unsupervised visitation. However, in order to obtain unsupervised visitation, the abusive parent will likely need to complete a domestic violence course as well as an anger management class to show the court that unsupervised visitation is in the child’s best interest.
Terminating Parental Rights
Where a parent’s aggression is so egregious and/or constant and ongoing, a court may terminate that parent’s rights. Unlike supervised visitation, a termination of parental rights is permanent. This means that the abusive parent’s future good behavior will often not justify reinstating his or her parental rights. However, this is an extraordinary case and courts reserve terminating parental rights for only extreme cases, such as habitual physical and/or sexual abuse of a child.
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 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 (888) 530-4374.