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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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How Domestic Violence Impacts a Virginia Divorce


If you are in a violent marriage, it is important to seek help right away. The presence of domestic violence or spousal abuse in your marriage can affect the divorce proceedings in several ways, including communication, financial judgements, and child custody decisions.

Cruelty as Grounds for Divorce

Most divorces in Virginia are no-fault divorces, satisfied by meeting the separation requirement of one year (six months if there are no children and an agreement of the parties as to the settlement of marital affairs). However, there are some circumstances in which the state will grant a divorce based on the bad behavior of one of the spouses. The grounds for a fault divorce in Virginia are (1) adultery; (2) abandonment/dessertion; and (4) cruelty.

To be granted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty, you must be able to demonstrate your spouse acted with more malice than petty meanness. In most cases, you must be able to prove the existence of physical violence, a fear of violence, or severe emotional abuse. Victims of spousal abuse may choose to file for a fault divorce on the grounds of cruelty to obtain a more favorable ruling on property division, child custody, and spousal support. Although many states allow victims of domestic violence to expedite the divorce process, Virginia still requires a 12-month separation for divorce on the grounds of cruelty.

The Impact of a Protective Order on Virginia Divorce

If you are in a dangerous situation, a judge may issue a protective order to ensure a safer environment for you and your child. There are several different types of protective orders that may be issued in your case, and each could affect your divorce in different ways.

When a protective order is in place due to domestic violence, you and your spouse may not be able to continue living together, and your contact with each other may be limited. This can make divorce settlement negotiations tricky. However, you and your spouse may be granted the ability to communicate about children and the divorce through a third party, usually your attorneys. Many couples with protective orders in place are able to reach a divorce settlement without the need for costly litigation.

Domestic Violence and Spousal Support

Both division of assets and spousal support in a Virginia divorce case can be affected by spousal abuse. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to protect either spouse from destitution after a divorce; it is not intended to be a punishment for bad behavior. However, when a divorce is granted on the grounds of cruelty, a judge may take this into account when making marital property division and alimony decisions.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

Accusations of domestic violence or assault against a child are taken very seriously in child custody cases in Virginia. Even a single domestic violence incident can impact your custody and visitation rights. In cases of repeated or aggravated domestic violence, a judge may decide it is not safe to allow you around your children. When deciding child custody arrangements, courts will take into account any history of abuse, not just by the parents, but by boyfriends/girlfriends, caretakers, and anyone living with the child.

Contact Us Today for Legal Help

If you are a victim of domestic violence considering divorce, reach out to a family law attorney right away. The experienced and compassionate attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC can help you during this difficult time. Contact our office in Leesburg, VA at 703-997-4982.



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Governor Northam’s Executive Order 53 provides that businesses that offer professional rather than retail services may remain open. Our firm is continuing to operate to ensure you and your family have advocates available for whatever legal issue you face. For clients who prefer, we can arrange meeting by Zoom or other video-conferencing. We are also implementing internal procedures to provide a safe environment in the office. Please contact us at 703-777-1795 or schedule an appointment today!