Domestic Violence and Child Custody

Domestic violence may come in many forms, including physical, emotional, financial, and  sexual violence.  In the United States, nearly 20 per minute may be victims of some form of domestic violence.  The best interests of the child is the guiding principle in many child custody cases in Washington.  (A different standard exists for non-parental custody, i.e., “third party,” and relocation, cases.)  Domestic violence often plays a central role in the determination of child custody or visitation.  In fact, the existence of current or past domestic violence or abuse is a specific factor to be considered by the judge when making a best interests determination.

If you or your child is a recent victim of domestic abuse, it may be time to obtain a Domestic Violence Protection Order.  If the court reviews the facts in your request and determines that recent abuse has occurred–and it is likely that this abuse will occur again in the near future—then the court may grant a protection order.  This order will keep the abuser away from you and your child.

Obviously, if a parent is prevented from being around a child due to abuse, this could have a large effect on any ongoing or future custody disputes.  The existence of a protective order, if it is made permanent, could be grounds for the victim-parent to seek modification of a prior custody order.

Even absent a protective order, domestic violence can greatly impact custody battles.  If a court commissioner or judge determines that violence has been an issue and may be an issue going forward, he or she may order supervised visitation for the perpetrator-parent.  This typically means that a neutral third-party would supervise visits between the parent and the child to make sure the child is safe and does not suffer additional abuse.  The supervisor would likely have the authority to end the visit if the parent starts to act aggressively or otherwise inappropriately.  Supervisors may be family members or a professional supervisor.

If supervised contact is inappropriate or goes badly, a parent’s contact may be even further restricted to phone calls or letters only.  This contact may also be monitored by the other parent, if the abusing parent has shown to be verbally aggressive in the past. In extreme circumstances, it may be possible to prohibit all contact between the abusing parent and child.

If you are in a domestic violence relationship, you need help. Contact us today at (253) 272-9459 for an appointment so we can talk about keeping you and your child safe.


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