The Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody Cases

Boy looking away as parents argue behind him

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Courts take allegations of domestic violence in child custody cases very seriously. There is always the concern that if the court does not take strong action, the accused parent could wind up later harming the child.

For this reason, courts do tend to be conservative when it comes to granting custody or visitation following accusations of abuse. Here's what you need to know about domestic violence and child custody cases.

The Epidemic of Domestic Violence

Up to 15.5 million children witness acts of domestic violence annually. In fact, domestic violence has become a huge epidemic in American society. Domestic violence in relationships is often the catalyst for one spouse to file for a divorce or to leave a relationship. If there are children involved, the issue of child custody then arises.

In such cases, the court must determine which parent will be granted physical custody of the children: the alleged abuser, the alleged victim of domestic violence, or both.

Ultimately, it is the court's responsibility to consider the "best interests of the child" regarding incidents of domestic violence in child custody cases. This means that they must defer to what is best for the child's well-being and safety.

Impact on Child Custody

Evidence of recent (and even long-since-past accusations) of domestic violence are regularly considered in child custody determinations. The court may deny custody to a parent who has been accused of domestic violence if it determines that the parent poses a danger to the child or to the child's other parent, the victim.

Factors Considered in Court

It is important to note that the courts do not simply take a parent's word for it when considering accusations of domestic violence and child custody. Judges generally consider:

  • Whether the alleged instances of domestic violence had an effect on or were directed at the child
  • Whether the accused continues to pose a danger to the child or the other parent
  • The severity and frequency of the domestic violence (which the courts may consider to be a strong indicator of future behavior)
  • Whether there's a pending criminal case against the accused
  • Any physical evidence of abuse, including photographs
  • Police reports documenting incidents of alleged abuse

Domestic Violence on Custody and Visitation

Incidents of domestic violence don't just impact child custody determinations. They also impact whether the accused will have access to visitation. The court may choose to:

  • Revoke the accused parent's visitation rights, temporarily or long-term
  • Order supervised visitation
  • Revise the accused parent's existing visitation order (for example, by revoking overnight visits)
  • Order parenting classes or anger management classes
  • Order the accused parent to participate in domestic violence counseling
  • Issue a restraining order or order of protection

Battered Immigrant Remedies

Some victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship, especially if the victim is an immigrant. Often an abuser may threaten a victim with calling the United States Customs Enforcement officials if the victim reports the abuse.

If an immigrant is abused, they should immediately leave the situation and alert the authorities. There is a good chance the immigrant can remain in the country under a special visa category, without fear of being sent back to their home country.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Douglas EM, Hines DA. Children's exposure to partner violence in homes where men seek help for partner violence victimization. J Fam Violence. 2016;31(4):515-525. doi:10.1007/s10896-015-9783-x

  2. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases.

  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Battered Spouse, Children and Parents.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.