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Impact of Credible Allegations of Domestic Abuse on Child Custody

Domestic abuse is at epidemic proportions across the United States. The stark reality is that approximately 10 people are abused by an intimate partner every minute in the U.S. In other words, approximately 10 million people in the country become victims of domestic abuse each year. Domestic abuse represents a key motivator for a considerable number of individuals to eventually seek an end to their marriages. A credible allegation of domestic abuse has a direct, significant impact on custody decisions and determinations in a divorce case.

Best Interests of a Child Standard

In all U.S. states, courts utilize what is known as the best interests of a child standard when making decisions pertaining to custody and parenting time or visitation. On a case-by-case basis, a judge considers the specific facts and circumstances at hand to make a decision regarding a child custody and visitation, or parenting time order. In this regard, a court considers a variety of facts and factors, credible allegations pertaining to domestic abuse among them.

Making a Credible Allegation of Domestic Abuse

A reality of divorce proceedings involving child custody is that false or unfounded allegations tend to get bandied about with considerable regularity. In other words, divorcing parents are not above lying about their spouses.

Unfortunately, engaging in deception and misinformation is a relatively widespread practice. This fact renders it more challenging to make a case about domestic abuse when that type of conduct actually has occurred. A spouse who has faced maltreatment needs to present credible allegations of domestic abuse to the court. Evidence used to create a credible allegation of domestic abuse can include everything from witness statements, to police reports, to the victim of abuse testifying under oath.

Acts that Constitute Domestic Violence or Domestic Abuse

The terms domestic violence and domestic abuse tend to be used fairly interchangeably. With that said, the phrase domestic violence carries with it a connotation of physical abuse. The reality is that domestic abuse can consist of much more than physical violence. Domestic abuse potentially includes:

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
Physical and Legal Custody when Domestic Abuse is Alleged

Despite the fact that the court considers multiple factors in making a custody decision, a credible allegation that a parent has engaged in domestic abuse will nearly always tip the custodial scale in favor of the other parent. In other words, a parent is not likely to be granted primary custody when that individual faces credible allegation of committing domestic abuse.

Courts and Situations when Child has Never Been Targeted

In more than a few cases in which domestic abuse is alleged, the purported perpetrator makes the argument that the child was not the target of the alleged mistreatment. The argument concludes that because the child was not the target, the minor is not at risk and an allegation of domestic abuse against the other spouse should not have a bearing on a court's custody or visitation order.

In fact, most courts today will not agree with this line of reasoning. Typically, a court will rule that even if a child was not a direct target of parental abuse, a minor's best interests are still in jeopardy. Simply put, it is never in a child's best interests to have as a primary carer a parent who abuses the other parent, even if none of the maltreatment is directed at the child themselves.

Visitation or Parenting Time when Domestic Abuse is Alleged

If a noncustodial parent is deemed to be the perpetrator of domestic abuse, a court may elect to suspend visitation of parenting time completely. The suspension is likely to be temporary until that noncustodial parent has obtained professional help associated with the alleged abusive conduct.

Depending on the level of alleged abuse, a more likely initial step to be taken by the court is to require a noncustodial parent to have supervised visitation or parenting time. When a court issues an order of this nature, a review date typically is scheduled. At that juncture, the court is able to review and consider steps a parent accused of abuse has taken to address underlying issues that gave rise to that conduct.

An experienced divorce attorney or custody lawyer is able to provide more detailed information about the impact of credible allegations of domestic abuse on issues surrounding child custody and visitation or parenting time. If you have any questions concerning child custody and domestic abuse, call the Law Offices of Peter van Aulen at 201-845-7400 for a free consultation.

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*Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances