It should come as no surprise that when courts consider the amount of time a child spends with each parent, domestic violence weighs heavily in the balance. With 20 percent of all homicides in the state resulting from domestic violence incidents, law enforcement and courts often feel they simply cannot be too careful when it comes to accusations of domestic violence. The fact that domestic violence murders have risen by more than 6 percent since last year has further increased the feeling of urgency in these cases.
What role does a spouse’s history of domestic violence play?
Recent research published in the American Bar Association’s Family Law Quarterly indicates that about half the children exposed to familial violence demonstrate adverse lifelong effects. Not least of all, recurrent patterns of behavior may make male children more susceptible to becoming batterers and may make female children more prone to mental illness. As a result, courts have been urged to consider domestic violence as one of the most important factors in making custody determinations.
What are the best-interest factors?
To determine how much time, if any, children should spend with parents who are separating, courts consider a set of criteria called best-interest factors. The factors’ guiding principle is, as the name implies, determining how to best serve the interests of the child, with an eye to facilitating relationships and frequent contact with both parents.
While courts may consider a child’s emotional needs, developmental issues, and even preferences, experts urge that health and safety must trump all other considerations. In light of the far-reaching effect that recent reports demonstrate domestic violence can have, courts may elevate this factor above all other best-interest factors at the urging of child custody experts. This is critical information for parents who are dissolving their relationship because of circumstances that involve domestic violence.
Those involved in custody disputes in which domestic violence has been an issue should consult with family law attorneys prepared to vigorously advocate for their clients’ rights.