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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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Understanding Mental Illness in Virginia Family Law Cases


Mental illness is an important factor in many family law matters. It can be a primary reason behind a marriage breaking down, or even some criminal activity. In addition, mental illness can play a role in other Virginia scenarios such as child support, child custody, spousal support, and property division. Each of these is covered by a Virginia statute that includes a requirement that a judge evaluates the mental condition of all parties.

Educating people about mental illness and good mental health is becoming more prevalent. Virginia and New York became the first two states to enact laws that require schools to provide mental health education. The new law went into effect in Virginia in July, 2018, and it mandates that mental health education be integrated into the health curriculum and physical education for both ninth- and 10th-graders, given that suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between 15 and 24 years of age, and the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, up 30% since 1999.

Virginia Mandatory Treatment Laws

Like other states, Virginia has civil commitment statutes that dictate when involuntary commitment is required. This may be necessary when someone is unable to seek care on their own.

To qualify for inpatient treatment, a person must meet certain criteria.

  • The person has to be so mentally ill that they cannot care for themselves;
  • They are an imminent danger to themselves or others;
  • They are substantially likely to “suffer serious harm due to substantial deterioration of their capacity to protect themselves from harm or to provide for their basic human needs as evidenced by current circumstances.”

Virginia law also provides for court-ordered outpatient treatment, which is known as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). To qualify for outpatient treatment, someone has to meet the same criteria as the inpatient treatment, and they must be able to understand the treatment stipulations. In addition, they must want to live in the community and be willing to abide by the recommended treatment plan, live where the treatment can be administered on a regular outpatient basis, and be monitored by designated providers or a community services board.

Steps for Involuntary Civil Commitment

There are three steps for involuntary civil commitment in Virginia:

  • Emergency Custody Order (ECO) — This is an order issued by a magistrate and dictates that anyone who is unable to or unwilling to volunteer for treatment to be taken and transported for an evaluation, so the doctors can determine whether there’s a need for hospitalization or other treatment.
  • Temporary Detention Order (TDO) — This is an order issued by the magistrate that gives law enforcement the authority to take someone into custody and transport them to a designated facility.
  • Commitment Hearing — This is not held until a number of things have been completed, including preadmission, an independent examination, screening report, and an initiation of mental health treatment to stabilize the individual. It needs to be within 72 hours of the TDO execution, unless that falls on a weekend or legal holiday, then it will be extended to the following business day.

Retaining a Virginia Family Law Attorney

It’s important you retain a skilled Virginia mental illness attorney because these matters tend to be rather complex. Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC has a strong focus in family law matters where one or more parties are suffering from a mental illness. Our firm has decades of experience dealing with complex mental illness and family law matters. Contact our office at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation and let us help resolve your immediate legal needs.



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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!