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Child custody: Protecting children in an abusive relationship

When an abusive relationship ends, there are many decisions to make regarding the welfare of any children involved. Some family courts believe both parents should retain child custody and may not consider the history of abuse. In California and other states, the American Judges Association states it is not uncommon for batterers to challenge requests by victims for sole custody.

Researchers show that abusive partners can have a negative impact on their children's lives, and in some circumstances, a court may favor them because they are trying to be an active part of their children's lives. In 2016, a U.S. Congressman proposed a congressional resolution designed to prevent abusers from gaining custody and therefore limit coercive control. The resolution, which has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee for two years, mandates family courts to resolve claims of abuse before deciding about visitation or custody.

If the resolution is passed, it may result in extensive training on the effects of coercive control and domestic violence. Court evaluators, judges and attorneys must also receive specialized training and supervision to avoid making dangerous custody recommendations. In cases where abuse is confirmed, experts could recommend establishing supervised visitations and limiting an abuser's access to the child.

Spouses and domestic partners who are attempting to flee a violent or abusive relationship sometimes are ordered to share child custody or allow their abusers visitation with the child. Residents of California who have concerns about abusive relationships may benefit from consulting with a family law attorney. A lawyer who is well-versed in domestic violence can assist a client in deciding what is in the best interest of the child or children involved.

Source:, "The fight to keep abusers from hurting their children", Natalie Pattillo, May 20, 2018

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