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Is parentification grounds for a custody change in Virginia?

On Behalf of | Sep 18, 2023 | Family Law

Divorce impacts children in ways adults may have difficulty understanding. Absorbed in their troubles, parents often fail to recognize the suffering of their children, who have no control over the sudden upheaval of their world.

A parent may even force his or her child into a role typically reserved for parents or caregivers, justifying it with the idea that everyone has to contribute as the family adjusts. The child becomes responsible for taking care of his or her parent or siblings emotionally, physically or financially. Called parentification, this may have significant consequences for the child and may be grounds to ask for a custody change.

Harmful effects

Children forced into adult roles may experience emotional distress, including feelings of guilt, anxiety or inadequacy, as they grapple with responsibilities beyond their years. Parentification can also hinder their emotional and psychological development as they miss out on essential experiences like social activities, milestones and academic opportunities due to their caregiving responsibilities. This can impact their ability to form healthy relationships and cope with stress later in life. As these children grow, they may also find it challenging to break free from the caregiver role.

Child custody modification

Child custody orders in Virginia primarily focus on the best interests of the child. Courts consider several factors when making child custody decisions. A parent may request an order modification if he or she believes his or her children to be at risk of harm. Because parentification can help create a less-than-nurturing environment, it is, in conjunction with other threats to a child’s well-being, grounds to ask for a change in custody.

According to Newport Academy, around 1.4 million children and teens nationwide experience parentification. Children performing chores and contributing to the household is normal and healthy, but parentification goes beyond that. It can cause serious mental, emotional and psychological harm in the short- and long-term. While it is not typically the sole reason for a child custody order change in Virginia, it may factor in as part of the assessment of a child’s best interests when considering a modification.