Virginia Family Law
A Blog by Jason A Weis, Esq.
Virginia & Maryland Family Law Attorney

Virginia Family Law: New Dads Get Sad, Too.


Psychologists at Eastern Virginia Medical School have recently found that new mothers are not alone in being susceptible to depression following child birth.  Psychologists concluded that fathers suffer from postpartum depression at nearly the same rate as mothers.  The study involved the review of 43 separate studies of some 28,000 fathers in the U.S. and other developed countries.  During the first year of fatherhood, the rates of depressed fathers were quite high:  25% of American men exhibited signs of postpartum depression during the first three to six months after child birth and 14% continued exhibiting signs after one year. 

Sleep deprivation, a decline in sexual intimacy and the stress of juggling work and new home responsibilities likely contributed to these negative feelings, researchers tell The Los Angeles Times.  “We are expecting dads to be more involved in parenting than we ever have before,” said University of California at Berkeley researcher Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist who studies paternal depression.  “Most dads are welcoming that, but they don’t have any models about what a dad is supposed to do.  That creates uncertainty, and that uncertainty can lead to anxiety and depression.”

            As the parenting role of fathers continues to evolve, many men are concerned about unfair stereotypes relating to child custody and visitation.  In the 1986 case of Viskides v. Derr, the Virginia Court of Appeals put to rest the “tender years presumption,” which held that a mother should be given preference in custody cases involving young children.  The law governing child custody and visitation now clearly provides that “[a]s between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either.”  Though reasonable minds may disagree about whether such presumptions persist, the court must consider the “best interests” of the child as determined by consideration of no less than ten separate factors.  Those factors include the age, physical and mental condition of the child and parents, the relationship existing between each parent and the child, the needs of the child, the role each parent has played in the upbringing of the child, the propensity of each parent to support the child’s contact with the other, the reasonable preference of the child and instances of family abuse.  Fathers (and mothers for that matter) would be well served by examining those factors and marshalling what information they may have relating to those factors as opposed to worrying about traditional parenting roles.  If you would like more information about these factors and how courts analyze them, feel free to give me a call.

Virginia Family Law Blog: Children Testifying in Divorce Proceedings


ABCnews.com has reported an interesting study of high school and college students, built upon data from tens of thousands of psychological surveys in use since 1938, that concludes depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues are far more prevalent among today’s youth than they were during the Great Depression. In fact, five times as many students in 2007 reported signs of mental illness than did those in 1938. Some researchers speculate that today’s emphasis on wealth and appearance places an overwhelming pressure on young adults to be “hot” and “live large,” while others propose overprotective parenting keeps kids from developing independence and coping skills. Jean Twenge, psychologist and lead author of the study, hypothesizes that a focus on material things has replaced a focus on relationships.

Adding to a young child’s burden by requiring him/her to testify in a contested divorce proceeding is not a matter to lightly undertaken by a parent. Virginia Code Section 20-107.2(7) requires, as a factor for determining the best interests of a child, that “the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference…” be considered. There is no precise age at which a child is deemed to have reached the “age of discretion;” the statute effectively provides a sliding scale whereby a judge can exercise discretion in determining whether a child is competent to testify and how much weight, if any, the testimony should be given.

As a general rule, the older a child gets, the more likely it is that the child’s preference will play a significant role. Of course, there are always exceptions. For example, teenagers are typically considered to have reached the “age of discretion,” but if a teenager’s conduct reflects a lack of maturity and understanding (e.g. the teenage has legal or academic problems, or prefers to reside with one parent merely because that parent is less strict) the testimony may be heard, but given little weight. As another example, children below the age of 12 are typically not considered to have reached the age of discretion, but reported cases exist finding particularly mature and experienced children as young as 7 and 8 years old competent to testify.

There are several alternative mechanisms by which a child’s preference may be communicated to the Court without his/her direct testimony. Moreover, there are avenues for presenting a child’s preference to a Court that minimize his/her stress level. If you have questions about this topic or in any other regard, feel free to drop me a line.

















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My experience and background reflect the hallmarks of success one must demand of a lawyer in Northern Virginia's legal landscape.  As a native of this area, I have here focused my practice on providing sound and balanced representation to clients navigating the difficult legal waters of family law, including contested divorce, custody, visitation, spousal and child support, and equitable distribution.  More >>>

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Jason A. Weis, Esquire
Curran Moher, P.C.
3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

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Phone: (571) 328-5020

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you find the information here as enjoyable to read as I find to write. Please note that reading this blog does not create a legal relationship between you and Jason A. Weis, Esquire or any other attorney associated with familylawva.com. Moreover, all postings on this blog are merely attorneys' commentary on the state of family law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. THE POSTINGS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE – if you have a legal issue or question, I strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer. I would be pleased to refer you to someone if I am able.