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Custody decisions and domestic violence

Virginia parents should be aware of court protections for children who are exposed to domestic abuse. Children who witness domestic abuse are more likely to develop emotional problems such as anger, anxiety and poor self-esteem. They also have difficulty in school and are more likely to drop out, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience teenage pregnancy and become involved in teen dating violence. Children who see signs of verbal or physical abuse between their parents are also more likely to become abusers when they are older.

Many family courts consider only physical violence when determining whether an abusive father should get custody rights. Victims are often not believed even when their allegations are validated. Multiple studies have shown that the custody evaluation process is not efficient at properly assessing domestic violence cases.

One research study found that evidence of domestic violence is often excluded when a father is being evaluated for custody rights. Even if the domestic violence has been confirmed, the father still often receives joint custody unless the child has been the victim of physical abuse. It is believed that a combination of a lack of experience among those determining custody arrangements and gender bias is at play in this trend. One study found that male evaluators were more likely to dismiss domestic violence as a factor in custody determinations. Domestic violence often continues even after a divorce, meaning that many children continue to be exposed to its harmful effects.

Child custody is a complicated area of the law with many intervening variables, from domestic violence situations to the stability of one parent compared to the other. A family law attorney can sometimes help a domestic violence victim seek sole physical custody of his or her children by demonstrate that it would be in the children's best interests.

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