Virginia custody issues: when you suspect your child is being abused

Posted on Sep 27, 2019 by Katie Carter

I’m a mom, too, so I get it. Protecting those little people is literally the only job in the world that matters, and when you feel like the health, safety, and well being of your children is threatened – well, it’s understandable if it makes you feel a little crazy.

When the health, safety, and well being of your children is threatened by your child’s father, it’s even worse. And it’s not uncommon at all! I’ve been around the block a few times now and seen a lot of different types of cases, but the first case I handled solo, years and years ago now, was a case like this. A case where mom was deeply convinced that the child’s father was behaving inappropriately with the child.

Physical and Sexual Abuse Cases

Physical and sexual abuse cases are probably a lot more prevalent than you realize. But they’re also probably fraught with the most difficulty of any kind of custody case out there.

I’ll lay the problem out for you quickly, and then we’ll discuss ways to address it. To put it very bluntly, courts are jaded when it comes to allegations of abuse. Without very clear proof of the abuse you’re alleging, judges are going to find it hard to believe. Worse than that, judges might feel that you’re blowing smoke on these allegations in an attempt to alienate the child from the father (parental alienation, is what therapists call this) or otherwise using it in order to get the custodial arrangement you’d prefer.

It’s risky. Seriously risky. Making any kind of abuse allegations without pretty concrete proof can be damning, in fact. A recent article in the Washington Post sheds light on this issue, and, if you’re interested, you can read it here.

Of course, it’s a huge source of injustice in the family courts. The worst part? The article says that – “when mothers reported abuse – including child abuse and domestic violence – the mothers lost custody 28 percent of the time.” TWENTY EIGHT PERCENT. And that’s just counting the moms who lost custody, not the moms who had their visitation reduced, or who had dads switched to being the primary physical custodians.

There is no such matching statistic for men who allege abuse against their child’s mothers.

It’s sickening. The good news, if there is any, is that this article – and the study behind it – exists. So, there’s at least some awareness of this issue that may spread and, ultimately, over time, impact the family courts. It certainly won’t be a quick impact (nothing with the courts ever impacts judges rulings on a systematic basis quickly), but, perhaps, with time, the stigma associated with women who allege abuse will decline.

The bad news, of course, is that if you’re worried about physical, sexual, or emotional abuse TODAY, you have to work within the court system as it exists.

Why would the court do that? Why wouldn’t the court act to protect children?

I can’t tell you how much I’ve wrestled with this. The worst conversations I ever have in my practice are with moms who confide these types of fears in me. I have to tell them, over and over, that without PROOF, without really, really solid evidence, we’re better off not even mentioning these allegations! My goal is always to have mom walk away with as much parenting time as possible, to minimize the possible negative impact of dad, without becoming one of the moms that fall within that 28% statistic.

I can understand the court, though. It makes me sick to my stomach, especially when I know that there is something to many of these allegations. But I understand. We can’t remove a child from a parent based on allegations, any more than we can send someone to jail for life based on allegations. The court system operates on evidence and what you can prove. Children don’t get preemptively removed from their parents’ care. And, if he alleged abuse against you (in an attempt to alienate the children, or to take custody away from you), you’d appreciate this, too – after all, allegations are just that.

The court has no power to just protect children, without proof, though there are appropriate legal channels to follow if you have enough solid evidence.

I believe I have good evidence of abuse. What should I do to protect my children in my upcoming custody case?

The best advice I can give you is to start working with a licensed, experienced Virginia custody attorney as soon as possible. She can help you go through the evidence you’ve already gotten and make a plan for how to move forward.

In many cases, it involves a Guardian ad litem and a therapists, but potentially a team of therapists, for your child.

We have a free report on custody cases where abuse is alleged, too, which you can request by clicking here.

Can’t I just call the police or CPS to have them investigate the abuse?

I wouldn’t do anything without talking with an attorney first. I understand – they’re your kids, and you want to do something now. But the best thing you can do is stay calm, and act strategically.

Calling CPS and the police and looking more and more erratic isn’t going to help your case. It may be entirely understandable (to me, at least), but that doesn’t mean that the judge or the GAL is going to see your point of view. In my experience, judges and Guardians ad litem believe in the system, and have a hard time understanding additional steps being taken.

It’s one thing if the child goes to the doctor because of an injury and the doctor reports to CPS; it’s another if you call yourself. Still, I’d tread very, very careful, and enlist the support of an attorney as soon as possible. We have to make difficult decisions and come up with an entire case strategy very early on in most custody cases, and you’re better off benefiting from the experience of someone who has handled a lot of cases like this.

If you want to protect your children, you need to take steps to do so. But you want to make sure those steps make sense and are carefully calculated to yield the results you need. If you spiral out of control and make mistakes early on, it can be hard to recover – and then you may have done exactly the thing you were trying to avoid. Protect your children. Make good choices. Be strategic. Never been here before? Of course you haven’t! Benefit from the experience of licensed, experienced, Virginia custody attorneys like us who’ve handled many cases with details like yours.

For more information, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.