Custody and Domestic Violence
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For more information about domestic violence, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/) at (800)799-7233 (TDD – 800-787-3224).
The purpose of this section is to give you a broad outline of the legal actions available to you if you or your children are in danger or victims of domestic violence. While we will provide all necessary assistance in completing any forms related to domestic violence, abuse, or harassment, we cannot provide counseling or psychological support. We suggest you contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/) for information on resources and shelters available in your area.
Custody and Domestic Violence
Whenever there is abuse of a child (or other parent), the courts will also promote a parenting plan the values safety and security above all else. In domestic violence situations, it is most often prudent to seek out supervised visitation and a parenting plan that allows for drop offs and picks up at safe locations that allow for minimal interaction between the parents. If you are currently in fear for your safety or the safety of your children, please contact local law enforcement for assistance.
When the child’s safety or welfare while in the care of one or both parents is questioned, the courts may order supervised visitation. In most cases, any evidence of domestic violence will automatically involve some sort of court oversight until such time as the home environment is considered safe for the child. Supervised visitation is most often ordered to help parents reintroduce themselves after an estrangement, or to ensure that the child does not suffer from abuse or neglect while in the care of either parent. Supervised visitation may also be ordered in situations where there is a history of mental illness or a threat of parental abduction.
When supervised visitation is ordered, a supervised visitation provider will be called upon to be present during parental visitation. The provider can be a paid professional, or an impartial friend or family member. The visitation supervisor will be present for the entire visit, and will observe behavior and note conversation, while paying close attention to how the visit is unfolding between the parent and child. The provider can, if necessary, interrupt or end a visit if the provider feels the child is endangered.
Whether the supervised visitation provider is professional or a family friend or relative, anyone supervising visitation as part of a court order will most likely be required to fulfill a training or educational session provided by the court. Each court will have its rules and regulations regarding who can qualify as a supervised visitation provider.
Supervised visitation can be emotional and frustrating. If you are the parent participating in supervised visitation, it is natural to feel uncomfortable and experience tension. There are some things you can do to make sure the visit runs smoothly, including: arriving on time, avoiding conversation with your child about the court case, refusing to involve your child in disputes you may have with the other parent (including using the child to pass messages to the parent), keeping goodbyes brief and positive.
For the custodial parent, supervised visitation can also be stressful, especially in cases where domestic violence has occurred. It can help to prepare your children so that they know what to expect during the visit (explain the location, the duration, who will be present), and avoid asking the child for details of the visit once the child returns to your home.
Custody Laws and Domestic Violence
Every state has laws that deal specifically with custody and visitation cases that involve domestic violence. Once the court determines that there is a threat of new or continued domestic violence, the court will most likely err on the side of safety by ordering sole legal and physical custody to the non-violent parent. The amount of time that has passed between an incident of violence or abuse and the hearing date will bear little impact on the final order, though the judge will have discretion to consider extenuating circumstances and attempts at counseling or rehabilitation.
In some cases, a judge may allow joint custody and visitation when domestic violence has taken place in the past as long as certain guidelines have been followed and specific requirements have been fulfilled.
Cases where joint custody and/or visitation may be allowed include:
- when the court feels that it is in the best interest of the child;
- the abusive spouse has participated in court order or certified domestic violence counseling;
- the abusive spouse has successfully completed a court ordered parenting class;
- the abusive parent has complied with any restraining orders or other emergency orders;
- there is no evidence of continued violence or threat of future violence