Victims of domestic violence can always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). We would also like to remind visitors that Internet usage can be monitored. Call the hotline if you need help, or text “START” to the same number. The NDVH helps victims of domestic abuse identify and get into contact with local shelters, resources, and organizations who might be able to help. They also offer further tools and information for seeking safety, getting legal help to secure custody, and identify (as well as catalog) abuse.
Domestic violence is a serious issue in the United States. Statistically, one in four women and one in nine men will experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence between partners each year. Domestic-related violence affects over ten million people a year, and abuse hotlines receive over 20,000 calls a day. Domestic violence can have a massive impact in a custody case.
Not only does witnessing domestic violence greatly increase the risk of stress-related disorders and depression in children, but it is also the greatest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior between generations. It drastically alters who gets legal and physical custody and is one of the major factors that can exclude a parent from having access to their children. But careful planning, legal support, and evidence is needed to successfully prove domestic violence in a custody case, and gain the protections needed to avoid further victimization.
How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody by State
Each state has its own resources for combatting and addressing domestic violence. 38 states place domestic violence definitions within the criminal code, and nearly every state has a distinct definition for domestic violence. These include:
- Emotional abuse
- And physical abuse
In some states, subjecting a child to witnessing domestic violence may be a separate offense, while other states cite it as an aggravating circumstance during sentencing. In the United States, there are two kinds of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Cases of domestic violence can help a parent gain both full legal and physical custody of their children for their own protection, and limit or prevent visitation rights.
There are several other factors involved in how custody is awarded, including the child’s mental and physical wellbeing under the parent’s care, their relationship with the parent, and their adjustment to the community (if a parent wants to move away, for example). Certain other factors that greatly decrease a parent’s ability to fight for custody include a criminal history, being registered as a sex offender, and a history of drug use.
In general, the primary factor a judge will decide on is what the court finds to be in the best interests of the child. In all states, victims of domestic abuse are encouraged to seek legal help, and parents who commit domestic violence have a greatly diminished chance at shared custody or visitation rights. Below are links to local resources for domestic abuse victims per state:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Five Tips for Child Custody Cases Involving Domestic Violence
Regardless of where you live, a few tips regarding domestic violence are universal. If you are in a violent relationship, then it is critically important to carefully consider your next steps. Here are a few basic tips for making the transition.
1. Catalog All Violence and Abuse
Good records are the crux of a domestic violence case. If you can catalog, to the best of your abilities, how often your partner had been violent towards you or the children (both emotionally and physically), you may be able to bring a swifter end to the case and ensure that both you and your children will be safe via a protective order from a judge (until the separation is finalized).
2. Create a Safety Plan
Getting to safety is key. Pick a place, friend, coworker, acquaintance, or family member your partner would not know of. It may take time for you to set up the actual plan – from saving cash on the side and somewhere your partner wouldn’t find it, to figuring out the best place to get to, and picking the right time to leave. A local domestic violence victim’s shelter or organization may be able to help.
3. Manage Your Online Search History
Your Internet activity can be retroactively deleted through your browser’s history, but this is never 100 percent safe. Your best bet to avoid the prying eyes of your partner would be to try and do your research away from the home computer network, or any other network your partner may have access to. Use the computer at work or in an internet café. Avoid logging into any accounts you might own.
4. Claim Child Custody Early On
If you’ve had to leave home quickly, go to court right away and get an emergency protective order. Despite COVID-19’s impact on local courts, Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) requests are prioritized and can still be filed. This gives you custody over your children and legally protects you from your spouse (this is an enforceable court order, meaning the police can get involved). Failing to get an emergency order after leaving may give your partner the chance to accuse you of kidnapping.
5. Seek Legal Help Immediately
Emergency orders are temporary. You need a permanent solution. As soon as you are able to get in contact with local family law professionals and domestic violence victim resources to gain legal assistance. Regardless of where you live, domestic violence is a serious factor that will sway the judge’s decision in any custody case. Contact a family law professional today and start a virtual consultation.