When a Virginia parent leaves an abusive relationship, there is no guarantee that the abusive parent will not fight for and even get custody. According to one domestic violence expert, attempts to get custody rights are a kind of coercive control. Coercive control may include stalking and trying to manipulate the child.
The American Psychological Association says that while many think parents who leave their abusers will get primary custody, this is often not the case. In their efforts to keep children in contact with both parents, courts may dismiss allegations of domestic violence. The American Judges Association released a report in 2012 that found that in around 70 percent of challenged cases, an abusive parent persuaded authorities that the abused parent should not have sole custody or was unfit.
A representative from Texas introduced a congressional resolution that would require a thorough investigation into any allegations of domestic violence before a child custody decision is made. However, although the resolution has bipartisan support, it has been in committee for two years. Some experts, as well as the representative, say that custody evaluators often lack training in domestic violence and do not take abuse allegations seriously. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has also recommended investigations into domestic abuse allegations.
Parents who are worried about the safety of their children in a divorce might want to discuss the situation with an attorney. The parent might want to gather any documentation that supports the abuse allegations such as hospital or police reports. However, for situations in which the child’s well-being is not in danger, the courts will usually take the position that parental disagreements about how to raise children are not sufficient reason to limit a parent’s access to a child. In fact, appearing uncooperative could hurt a parent’s chance of getting custody.