When a victim of domestic violence decides to leave the abusive relationship, that decision is often not easy. A significant volume of abuse is emotional in nature, and includes belittling the victim and attempting to convince him or her that there is no chance of happiness outside of the confines of that relationship. For victims who share one or more children with their abuser, the matter is even further complicated. Family courts in Arizona and elsewhere do not always give domestic violence the proper consideration when making child custody and visitation determinations.
In family court, the presumption is that both parents have the right to participate in the lives of their children. As such, judges tend to focus on an individual’s fitness to parent when making custody determinations. A parent’s history of domestic violence directed toward the other parent is not always considered, unless that violence has reached the level where criminal charges or incarceration has come into play, or when the kids have been exposed to acts of violence or subjected to harm themselves.
Victims can request a custody evaluation, but not all evaluators are trained to recognize signs of abusive behavior. Divorce or a breakup is often an emotionally stressful time, and custody evaluators can mistake a partner’s choices as reactions to stress, rather than signs of abuse. Even when domestic violence is clearly indicated and acknowledged, not all evaluators will factor the matter into their final report to the court.
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to convincing a family law court to consider domestic violence in child custody or visitation determinations. Each set of circumstances is unique, and the best legal approach will vary from one client to another. That said, leaving a violent home environment is absolutely necessary to give both the victim and his or her children a chance at a happier, safer life. Victims of domestic violence should work closely with their Arizona family law attorney to determine the best way to protect kids from an abusive parent.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Can Family Courts Protect Children Exposed to Domestic Violence?“, David Adams, Feb. 11, 2016