Child custody was once a winner-take-all situation in the majority of divorces. The courts across the country used to favor custody arrangements in which one spouse received primary custody and the other received visitation. However, years of psychological and social research have made it clear that single-parent custody solutions usually don't benefit the children as much as shared custody.
Courts across the country, including in Virginia, now prefer to split physical and legal custody between the parents to minimize the trauma of the divorce on the children. The guiding principle for custody decisions in Virginia is always the best interests of the children involved. That means that if you can make a case for shared custody being deleterious to your children, the courts may still consider a sole custody arrangement.
Can you demonstrate that your ex is unstable or violent?
Simply having difficulty agreeing on how to best parent your children will not be a valid reason to request sole custody in the eyes of the courts. Even if you and your ex disagree on critical issues, such as what faith you want your children to learn or practice, the courts will usually expect you to figure those issues out on your own without them impacting the lives of your children.
However, if your ex having unsupervised access to the children could endanger your children's physical, emotional or social well-being, the courts will be more open to hearing your arguments about a sole custody situation. The courts typically won't just take your word for it. Instead, they will expect you to produce some kind of concrete evidence that shows the risk your spouse poses to the children.
What kind of evidence will help you seek sole custody?
You cannot simply show up to court and tell the judge that your ex is a bad parent. There needs to be some kind of documentation, preferably just from medical professionals or law enforcement, that validates your claim.
For example, records of police visits to your home because of domestic disputes, transcripts of therapy sessions where your ex or your children discuss abuse, or medical documentation of injuries you or your children suffered at the hands of your ex could all help strengthen your case for custody. Documentation of your ex's incarceration, therapy or addiction services can also help.
Sadly, many spouses who experience abuse are afraid to involve law enforcement or medical professionals because they worry that the abuse will escalate. If you don't currently have any kind of official documentation, other evidence such as journal entries and photographs of injuries may help you build a case.
You will likely benefit from discussing the situation with an experienced Virginia family law attorney to determine the best strategy for protecting your children from an abusive parent in a divorce.