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Can a spouse who has been abusive get child custody?

Episodes of abuse against a child or the other parent are taken very seriously by Virginia courts. However, a parent who was abusive in the past may be eligible to seek custody of their child, depending on the circumstances.

If one parent abuses the other parent or causes bodily injury to a family member, the judge is required by Virginia law to take the incidents into consideration when determining custody arrangements. However, past acts of abuse do not always mean that a parent will be automatically denied custody. There are other facts that must be taken into consideration, including who the violence or abuse was directed at. A parent can request that any visitation time granted to an abusive parent be supervised if that parent fears that the child may be in danger.

However, there are certain circumstances where a parent who was accused of abuse will not be granted custody. For example, if the abusive parent was convicted for murdering or attempting to murder the child or spouse or was involved in a conspiracy to commit these acts, they will not be granted custody. Additionally, if they were convicted of physical abuse or sexual assault involving the child or the other parent, the court will not grant them custody. Additionally, if it is in the best interests of the child, the court will typically grant custody to the non-abuser over the abuser.

When a parent leaves an abusive domestic situation, obtaining custody of the children may be high on their list of priorities. While all cases are different and whether or not the abusive parent is eligible to seek custody depends on unique circumstances, a family law attorney may assist their client in demonstrating using concrete evidence that it is within the child's best interests that child custody be granted to the non-abusive parent.

Source:, "Know the Law: Virginia: Custody", Accessed on Jan. 16, 2015

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