Child Custody and Domestic Violence

Child Custody and Domestic Violence

For the millions of acts of domestic violence that occur annually, a clear majority of these cases involve violence between a couple who have children together. Domestic violence against a child’s parent can have a significant impact on a child’s well-being and long-term emotional health. According to the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, “5 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US with 40 million adult Americans having grew up living with domestic violence. In addition to the significant number of affected children, these children can also suffer from serious long-term social and psychological damage arising from exposure to domestic violence.

Protecting yourself and your children in the period of transition

When a parent with children escapes an abusive relationship, it is important to consider safety as the main priority. As such, it is important to find a safe location in which the abuser will not be able to find you and your children. At this time, if law enforcement has not already been alerted, it is vital to obtain an order or protection to make certain that any attempts by the abuser to contact you will be punishable under the law. Secondly, it is also important to plan to have financial support and a safe way to obtain personal belongings without contacting the abuser.

Once a stable, safe living arrangement has been established, it is important to contact a lawyer to establish a temporary legal custody and visitation arrangement. If the abuser is your spouse this may be an appropriate time to explore legal separation or divorce while discussing temporary custody and visitation. In some extreme cases, it may not be safe for the abuser to visit the children while unsupervised, in this case supervised visitation may be required to ensure the children’s safety.     

How domestic violence impacts child custody

Allegations or convictions of domestic violence against a spouse or partner which you have a biological child with can significantly alter the outcome of a child custody arrangement or a child custody ruling in pending litigation. All States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes requiring that the child’s best interests be considered whenever specified types of decisions are made regarding a child’s custody.

Although there is no standard definition of “best interests of the child,” the term generally refers to the deliberation that courts undertake when deciding what type of services, actions, and orders will best serve a child as well as who is best suited to take care of a child. “Best interests” determinations are generally made by considering several factors related to the child’s circumstances and the parent or caregiver’s circumstances. These can include the capacity to parent and the child’s safety and well-being as the paramount concern.

Domestic violence charges can be used against abuser in child custody cases

Domestic violence committed between a couple who have children together can cause child custody previously ordered to be subject to be modified and can be used as evidence that weighs against an abuser’s fitness to retain custody of a child.  An allegation or conviction of domestic violence on its own is not sufficient to alter a custody arrangement or decision in a pending case, however it can play a significant role in a court’s determination that a parent is fit to exercise custody over a child.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to hire a lawyer experienced in representing victims of domestic violence. A skilled domestic violence attorney can help, explain the what rights you may have and how to best protect yourself from an abusive partner or family member.

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