Pregnancy is a key risk factor for experiencing domestic violence during ordinary times. The COVID19 pandemic appears to have increased that risk. As part of our effort to understand the impact of COVID19 on pregnant and postpartum people in our community, Nurture’s Social Media Manager, Shakeya Lewis, reached out to Rebecca Ribley, Staff Attorney with Victim Advocacy Services at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, to find out more about the impact of COVID19 on domestic violence. Below is an edited version of their conversation:
SL: Has there been a rise in calls related to domestic violence since the start of the pandemic?
RR: Yes. As of May 10, 2020, Domestic Violence intake calls to Central Virginia Legal Aid Society are up by 19.67%. Keep in mind that we serve Charlottesville and Petersburg too, and the 19.67% is an organization wide increase.
SL: How has the COVID19 pandemic affected victims of Domestic Violence?
RR: I can only speak from my experiences with clients. Protective orders are still being heard and I have been in court for a few since the pandemic started. I have been there in person and sometimes the client has appeared by phone. The phone option was a big relief for some clients who were dreading seeing their abusers.
I have had clients experiencing difficulty accessing the court. There was one mishap where the client asked to appear by phone and was told she could, but the clerk never called and her protective order was dismissed. She was going to file a new one but when she arrived at court she saw people coughing and not using masks and she decided to not pursue the protective order.
Clients are being forced to negotiate with their abusers while they wait for courts to start hearing their custody cases. This can be stressful and sometimes impossible. On the other hand, in some cases there has been a cooling off period that has allowed the parties to come to an agreement that may not have been possible had court been held sooner. Clients have also had their child support cases continued and are waiting a long time without financial support from their abusers.
Some clients have chosen to put off separating from their abusers because they don’t have anywhere else to go with their children during the pandemic. They also don’t have the privacy to plan their separation with abusers and children being home.
They are also busy helping their kids with online schooling. Some are essential workers on top of it all and are having to spend more money on child care with the kids being out of school. Some abusers aren’t willing to help with increased costs.
SL: What resources are available to women in the Richmond area that need assistance due to domestic violence?
RR: We offer advice and counsel for victims of domestic violence. I know that the Richmond YWCA continues to provide online counseling sessions to domestic violence victims. Each court is different, but in Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, the Victim Witness Advocates still attend court with victims of domestic violence. I know that Victim’s Witness groups at other courts are still working with clients but some courts are no longer allowing victim witness advocates to attend hearings with victims. These folks are a great resource and can even provide temporary hotel stays and other funding.
The Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center provides support for Latinx domestic violence victims. 804 592 0704. And here is an article I found that includes other resources: Where to Get Help in Virginia If You’re Experiencing Domestic Violence.
Resources for Domestic Violence Survivors Provided by Central Virginia Legal Aid Society:
The COVID-19 Crisis is profoundly affecting our daily lives. Instances of domestic and sexual violence have increased during the pandemic. If you find yourself a victim of domestic violence at this time, you do not have to suffer in silence. You are not alone! Resources are still available to assist you during this difficult time. If you find yourself in need of legal advice, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society’s Victim Advocacy Services Team is available to assist victims of crime with their civil legal needs during the COVID-19 Emergency.
You can apply on-line at http://cvlas.org/apply-for-help-online/.
Our local Victim Advocacy Services Paralegals can also take your application over the phone. You may apply by calling the following numbers:
- Charlottesville: (434) -327-1450
- Petersburg: (804) 518-2127
- Richmond: (804) 200-6047
COVID-19 Effects on Family Law cases:
- Protection Orders and Emergency Custody Hearings are considered emergency hearings and will still be held.
- As a result of the Virginia Supreme Court entered an Order declaring a Judicial Emergency due to COVID-19, Courts are only hearing emergency cases until June 28, 2020. Non-emergency cases have been postponed. This includes non-emergency custody disputes where the health or safety of a child is not at serious risk.
- There may be delays in non-emergency cases due to the COVID-19 Emergency.
- During this time, current Court orders must be complied with unless both parties agree to a change.
Helpful links to general information on various family law topics:
Frequently Asked Questions:
I would like to continue my protective order but am concerned about appearing in court due to COVID-19, can any arrangements be made so I do not have to be exposed to people at Court?
If you would like the protective order to be granted, you must appear at the protection order hearing, unless the Court grants you permission to appear electronically. The accommodations available vary by court. You may contact the local Clerk’s Office at the courthouse where your case is scheduled to request information on the accommodations available.
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society’s Victim Advocacy Services Attorneys continue to assist clients with protective order cases during the emergency and may be able to assist you further. If you are interested in obtaining assistance you may complete an application for services on-line or by phone.
I currently have a custody and visitation order for my children. Must I still follow the Court Order during the COVID-19 Emergency?
Yes, the Governor’s Order specifically provides that conducting court ordered visitation and custody exchanges are an essential activity. Failure to abide by a court’s order may result in a show cause against you and may have negative consequences in any future custody matters.
What can I do if my child’s other parent refuses to return my child because of COVID-19?
- Remind them that according to the Governor’s “Stay at Home Order” custody and visitation is to go on as it is ordered by the Court.
- Try to work out an agreement with the opposing party. For example: consider switching to your summer schedule.
- If a court order is not being obeyed, you may file a Motion to Show Cause Summons in the Court where your custody order was entered. You may also file a Motion for an Expedited Custody Hearing. It is important to outline thoroughly why this is an emergency. The court is not hearing cases unless they are, in fact, an emergency.
- You may call the non-emergency line at the police department and request they accompany you to pick up the child. When you meet them, have your current order in hand. (Note: Police departments’ guidelines in their responses during the COVID-19 emergency vary by Department. Check with the local police department for their policy on this type of response)