Domestic Violence and Child Visitation

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 What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence may be defined as an abuse of power and control. It is a pattern of behavior used by one person to control another individual through force or threats. Physical domestic violence may consist of but is not limited to:

  • Striking;
  • Hitting;
  • Kicking;
  • Punching and;
  • Threatening.

Domestic violence can include both physical and sexual abuse. These violent acts are labeled as criminal and the batterer can be prosecuted for committing them. The acts are a means of controlling the victim’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The violence may increase in frequency and severity over some time. Emotional abuse and insulting words are part of the abuse pattern but are not considered to be criminal acts. The wounds from these injuries, however, can be more difficult to heal.

What Are Child Visitation Rights?

Visitation is known as the time a “noncustodial” parent spends with their child. A “noncustodial” parent is a parent who does not have physical custody of the child. In most circumstances, the child does not reside with the noncustodial parent. Visitation follows a schedule that is set by the judge in a court order. Depending on what is in the best interests of the child, a visitation schedule can be for a few hours a week, a day each week, overnights, weekends, or several weeks at a time.

Sometimes the court order will state that “reasonable rights of visitation with twenty-four hours notice.” This means that the parents must cooperate for visitation. Additionally, the noncustodial parent must provide the parent with custody at least a day’s notice before picking up the child. In some cases, the court may decide that it is not safe for a child to spend time alone with the noncustodial parent. If this occurs, the judge may order supervised visitation for the noncustodial parent. Depending on which state you reside in, it is important to check the local regulations as well.

After you obtain an order from the court to have custody of your children, the abuser may still be granted visitation with the children, unless the abuser does not request visitation or does not appear at the mandatory hearing. If you believe that the abuser is not a fit parent, you should explain this to the judge at your hearing. There are two types of supervised visitation you should be aware of:

  • Supervised visitation is between a parent and child held at a neutral location. Usually, supervised visitations are closely monitored by staff who may intervene when necessary to ensure appropriate parent/child interactions and;
  • Monitored exchanges are prearranged times at which the custodial parent brings the child to a designated meeting place. The visiting parent picks up the child for off-site visitation and returns the child to the spot at a prearranged time. Staggered pick-up and drop-off times are generally arranged so that the parents do not have to be in contact with one another. The actual exchange is monitored by staff who try to ease the process for the child.

Can a Parent Who Committed Family Violence or Domestic Abuse Have Visitation?

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, if the other parent has been abusive to you, your children, or another household member, it can affect visitation rights. Specifically, an abusive parent would only be allowed supervised visitation in any situation in which:

  • The parent has a “history of family violence” against any household member;
  • The parent subjected any of his/her children or step-children to family violence or domestic abuse and;
  • The parent could prevent another person from committing family violence or domestic abuse against his/her children or step-children but they “willingly permitted” it to occur.

The parent cannot get the supervised visitation, however, until they prove at a court hearing that there is a court-monitored domestic abuse intervention program that was completed since the last incident of domestic violence or family abuse. At the hearing, the judge will also evaluate the following when deciding to determine whether or not to grant supervised visitation:

  • Evidence of the abusive parent’s current mental health condition;
  • The possibility that the abusive parent will again subject the children, step-children, or another household member to family violence or domestic abuse;
  • The possibility that the abusive parent would “willingly permit” such abuse to any of the children or step-children despite having the ability to prevent it and;
  • Whether the abusive parent can prove that visitation would be in the best interest of the child and visitation would not cause physical, emotional, or psychological damage to the child.

How Domestic Violence Can Affect Children?

While it is vital to comprehend the effects of domestic violence on children, you must also realize that you may not be able to stop your children from witnessing violence because of your abusive circumstances. Keep in mind that it is the abuser’s fault that the children are witnessing violence in their home, not yours.

Violence in the home can impact children in many ways:

  • Children who witness violence in their homes may have trauma;
  • The children may suffer from nightmares or anxiety attacks;
  • They may have issues concentrating and “act out” against friends or siblings;
  • They may become depressed or withdrawn and;
  • Domestic violence may influence children to believe that using violence is an acceptable way to solve problems and may increase the chance that the child may be involved in future abusive relationships as an adult.

A finding of domestic violence, whether directly perpetrated on the child or not, will most likely impact child custody. A judge will collect evidence, including other discoveries of domestic violence in domestic or family court, and determine what is in the best interests of the child. Moreover, the judge may consider evidence from social workers or other experts and appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the child.

Even if domestic violence has taken place, a judge will likely grant some form of visitation to the accused parent unless they believe there will be serious threats of continued harm to the child. An individual concerned for the safety of their child or themselves may request the court to include additional precautions in the parenting plan, such as supervised visitation or a designated public meeting spot.

Divorcing spouses may be tempted to relay that their spouse is abusive to influence child custody decisions. There may be serious consequences if an individual is revealed to have altered child abuse allegations or prepped their child to say certain things to a doctor, therapist, social worker, or other individual interviewing the child.

If the basis for a restraining order, emergency order, or another finding of abuse turns out to be untrue, the person who submitted the false information may face sanctions related to parenting time or attorneys’ fees. In rare cases, an individual may face jail time. Sometimes parents are wrongly accused of fabricating child abuse allegations, especially if the allegations first appeared in the context of divorce.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are experiencing domestic violence and you have a child, you need to seek immediate attention. It is important to understand your rights and your children in case of any risk of domestic violence. It is highly recommended to seek out a local child visitation attorney to assist you with the process.

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