Courts take allegations of domestic violence in child custody cases very seriously. There is always the concern that if the court does not take strong action, the accused parent could wind up later harming the child. For this reason, courts do tend to be conservative when it comes to granting custody or visitation following accusations of abuse. Here's what you need to know about domestic violence and child custody cases:
An Epidemic of Domestic Violence
At least three million children witness acts of domestic violence annually. In fact, domestic violence has become a huge epidemic in American society. Domestic violence in relationships is often the catalyst for one spouse to file for a divorce or to leave a relationship. If there are children involved, the issue of child custody then arises. In such cases, the court must determine which parent will be granted physical custody of the children: the alleged abuser, the alleged victim of domestic violence, or both. Ultimately, it is the court's responsibility to consider the "best interests of the child" regarding incidents of domestic violence in child custody cases. This means that they must defer to what is best for the child's well-being and safety.
Evidence of Domestic Violence and Child Custody
Evidence of recent, and even long-since-past accusations, of domestic violence are regularly considered in child custody determinations.
The court may deny custody to a parent who has been accused of domestic violence if it determines that the parent poses a danger to the child or to the child's other parent, the victim.
Domestic Violence and Child Custody Factors to Be Considered in Court
It is important to note that the courts do not simply take a parent's word for it when considering accusations of domestic violence and child custody.
Judges generally consider:
- Whether the alleged instances of domestic violence had an effect on, or were directed at, the child
- Whether the accused continues to pose a danger to the child or the other parent
- The severity and frequency of the domestic violence (which the courts may consider to be a strong indicator of future behavior)
- Whether there's a pending criminal case against the accused
- Any physical evidence of abuse, including photographs
- Police reports documenting incidents of alleged abuse
The Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody and Visitation
Incidents of domestic violence don't just impact child custody determinations. They also impact whether the accused will have access to visitation. The court may choose to:
- Revoke the accused parent's visitation rights, temporarily or long-term
- Order supervised visitation
- Revise the accused parent's existing visitation order (for example, by revoking overnight visits)
- Order parenting classes or anger management classes
- Order the accused parent to participate in domestic violence counseling
- Issue a restraining order or order of protection
Battered Immigrant Remedies
Some victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship, especially if the victim is an immigrant.
Often an abuser may threaten a victim with calling the United States Customs Enforcement officials, if the victim reports the abuse. If an immigrant is abused, they should immediately leave the situation and alert the authorities. There is a good chance the immigrant can remain in the country under a special visa category, without fear of being sent back to his/her home country.
Edited by Jennifer Wolf.