When making an award of custody or visitation, Virginia courts look at the factors listed in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 to determine the best interests of the child. One of these factors is whether there has been a history of violence or abusive behavior. This could be a history that has previously been documented by police reports, protective orders, or criminal convictions, but it could also present itself in the form of allegations made against one parent by the other parent during litigation of the custody case.
Allegations of abuse or neglect of a child made against a parent during custody litigation are sometimes referred to as the nuclear bomb of family law. Such allegations can drastically raise emotions and tensions in an already very difficult situation, and can swing the balance in a custody case from one parent to the other. Such allegations are sometimes viewed with suspicion, as one parent may seize the opportunity to make false allegations against the other in order to win custody. False allegations are harmful to the children and to the relationship between the parents, and may make legitimate allegations of abuse and neglect even more difficult to substantiate.
Virginia courts take allegations of abuse and neglect very seriously. In custody cases involving allegations of child abuse or neglect, the judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). The GAL is an attorney whose role is to investigate the case, make a determination as to the best interests of the children, and report on his or her findings to the judge. The GAL is able to conduct an independent investigation into the facts surrounding the case that the court cannot, and can be a valuable neutral third party advocating for the children. For more information, see The Purpose of the Guardian ad Litem in Virginia.
If you believe your child is being abused or neglected by the other parent or someone in the other parent’s home, you should consider contacting the Department of Social Services Child Protective Services. DSS will likely file a protective order with the court to prevent any further family abuse, and may order the parents and children to undergo therapy and comply with other DSS requirements. DSS may also make a finding of abuse or neglect against the parent who committed it, as well as against the non-offending parent for a failure to protect the children from the abuse or neglect.
If you are concerned about abuse or neglect on the part of the other parent, you may also file for a protective order independent of DSS involvement to protect the children from harm. See Protective Orders in Virginia for more information.
Generally speaking, it is advisable to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced family law attorney in any custody case, but when allegations of abuse or neglect are in the mix, it is even more important to hire an attorney. An experienced family lawyer can help you navigate the system in any case in which DSS is involved, and represent you in any court proceedings involving allegations of abuse or neglect.
The family lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have years of experience representing parents in custody disputes involving allegations of abuse or neglect. If you are facing such a case anywhere in Northern Virginia, contact us to schedule a consultation today.