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If my spouse is abusive, will I get sole child custody?

Child custody can be one of the most contentious aspects of a divorce. Both parents may be accustomed to seeing their child every day, and the thought of only seeing their child on a schedule can seem unnatural.

When a history of domestic violence is part of a family’s situation, it can complicate matters even more. However, your former spouse’s history of domestic violence does not necessarily mean you will end up with sole custody of your kids.

A judge may first need to verify the facts

Safety is a primary concern in situations that involve domestic violence, and there are resources available to parents and children who need to get out of an unsafe situation. You may ask for child custody at the same time you ask for a restraining order, or you may ask for custody as part of your divorce. In either situation, it may be necessary for a judge to decide if domestic violence has occurred before he or she can make a long-term decision regarding child custody.

If a judge determines your case is a domestic violence case, he or she cannot give custody to your spouse, unless your spouse meets certain criteria. However, the judge can award your spouse visitation time with your children.

In certain circumstances, a judge may award sole or joint child custody to someone with a history of abuse. For this to occur, the person with a history of abuse must:

  • Prove that arrangement is in the child’s best interest
  • Complete a 52-week batterer intervention program
  • Complete substance abuse counseling, if relevant
  • Complete a parenting class, if ordered
  • Comply with all terms of probation or parole, if it applies to the situation
  • Have followed the restraining order, if there was one
  • Have not committed more domestic violence

A detailed parenting plan can prevent certain problems

Your child’s best interests should always be the primary factor that determines a custody arrangement. This means that a judge (or you and the other parent via mediation) must prioritize your child’s safety, as well as his or her overall well-being. In situations that do not involve domestic violence, it is usually in a child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents.

Situations that do include a history of abuse may need to be carefully evaluated to determine what arrangement is best. Parenting plans may need to be extremely detailed to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

For example, it may benefit your child to see the other parent, but for your child’s safety, it may be necessary to limit the duration of those visits. The parenting plan can specify when those visits will occur, how long they will last and if someone will supervise those visits or not.

It may also be helpful if your parenting plan details how child exchanges are to occur. For example, it may be perfectly safe for you to drop off and pick up your child at the designated times. Alternatively, if your child is safe with your ex-spouse but you do not feel safe in your ex’s presence, you may consider arranging to exchange your child in neutral locations under circumstances that do not require you and your ex to see each other. This may mean one parent drops your child off at school and the other parent picks your child up from school.

If you child’s other parent is abusive or has a history of being abusive, it is possible for you to obtain sole child custody. However, child custody cases can be complicated, so it may be worth considering taking additional steps to help ensure that you end up with the arrangement that is best for your child.

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Law Office of Layla Summers
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Phone: 310-575-2513
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