Child Custody and Domestic Violence
If you are in a violent relationship, you have a different set of issues to consider when you separate or divorce, especially in relation to your children. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you and your kids make a safe transition.
Keep Good Records
As long as you are still living with your spouse or partner, keep careful records of every incident of physical or emotional abuse that involves you or your kids. Write down the date, time, and place of every event, along with a description of what happened and any injuries to you or your children. These records will be a great help to you if you have to go before a judge to ensure that you and your kids are protected from the abuser.
Immediately Get Legal Custody of Your Children
If you have to leave home quickly with your kids to get away from an abusive spouse, go to court right away for an emergency protective order that both gives you custody of the children and requires your spouse to stay away from you.
Keep in mind that the emergency custody order will be temporary. Making a longer-term plan for custody of your children will be part of your divorce proceedings — or separation process if you are not married to the other parent. Whether short or long term, a judge will make a decision about child custody based on what the judge believes to be in the best interests of the children. State law determines the factors that a court will consider, but the safety of the children and any history of domestic violence will be a significant part of the equation.
It’s not unusual for a violent/abusive parent to get visitation rights. If it’s appropriate, however, you can ask for the visitation to be supervised or for the court to require that the other parent not drink or that certain other people can’t be around the kids.
You can make arrangements to deliver the kids at a neutral pickup site or to have third parties pick up and drop off your kids. If you are dropping off the kids yourself and you don’t feel safe, you can agree to meet at the local police station, a restaurant, or some other very public place.
You can also ask the court to appoint a supervisor for the visitation.
Getting Legal Help
Child custody and visitation issues can be difficult in any divorce or separation, but a violent relationship between you and your children’s other parent will make matters more challenging. If you have the resources, you should hire a lawyer to help you make the practical transition out of the abusive relationship. A good family law attorney can help you make the right choices for you and your kids.