Abuse Affects Child Custody Cases
Domestic Violence: Judges Look at “Best Situation” for Child in Divorce
“The abuse began in little ways — nasty comments, sarcasm, insults and progressed finally to physical abuse after three or four years,” says Annie, an abuse victim whose custody agreement chronicles the complaints. “We had been in counseling and he promised never to hit me again. He didn’t, but I didn’t realize how emotionally and mentally abusive he could be.”
Up to three million women are victims of an act of domestic violence every year, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. In 22 percent of middle-class marriages, domestic violence was given as the reason for divorce.
Domestic violence charges, regardless if it is an allegation, arrest or conviction, have a major impact in divorce proceedings — particularly when it comes child custody. That’s because whether they’re the victim or a witness, abuse has long-term effects on a child from physical illnesses to behavioral problems, according to The Center Against Domestic Violence.
Many states have enacted laws governing child custody in divorces with charges of abuse. These laws make it nearly impossible for the accused to gain custody of their children, explains Patricia Crawford, a retired family law attorney in Indiana. Crawford said judges look at factors like “best situation for the child” and the number of instances of abuse before making child custody decisions.
But each case is different, according to Hillary, a Vermont mother and abuse victim. “The judge in my case ruled that there had been no pattern of ongoing abuse, only one instance of ‘bad judgment under the influence of alcohol’ and that as long as my ex was complying with terms of probation including no alcohol use he did not feel that there was a current threat of physical harm to me.”
After an allegation of abuse, a parenting class, batterer’s treatment program or some type of substance abuse counseling program is usually required by the court. But that doesn’t always stop the cycle. This makes it all the more crucial for a victim of domestic violence to seek help — and break free from the abuse.
Michelle Byrom sits on Mississippi’s death row for the murder of her husband, whom she says was abusive. “I would eat poison just to spend days in the hospital away from the abuse. Don’t fool yourself thinking it can be a one-time thing. It just doesn’t happen that way,” she says. “If you’re being abused, get away now,” she warns.
Kelly Sons is an experienced freelance writer and researcher. Her work frequently appears in newspapers across the country.