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Domestic violence in child custody cases

Domestic violence concerns can significantly affect child custody cases in California. In general, family courts take allegations, charges or convictions related to domestic violence very seriously, because the child is at risk in any environment where violence is present. In many cases, courts take a more conservative approach to custody disputes when domestic violence allegations are involved, especially as violence is often a cause for divorce or breakups.

Domestic violence can affect custody decisions

While family courts strongly prefer joint custody overall and favor the involvement of both parents in a child’s life, domestic violence allegations may shift the outcome of a child custody case. The court is charged with making a decision in the best interests of the child, which means the child’s safety, health and livelihood is prioritized. In the case of substantiated allegations of domestic violence, the parent responsible for these actions could be denied custody if they are determined to pose a danger to the child or the other parent, or their access to the child could be limited to supervised visitation.

Factors considered by family courts

Courts consider a number of factors when assessing a domestic violence allegation during a custody case. Substantiated allegations, whether through a criminal case or through external evidence like photos, witnesses, recordings or police reports, are given greater weight. Unsubstantiated or false allegations may be considered to pose a danger of parental alienation, on the other hand. The severity of the violence may also be considered as well as whether the child observed, experienced or was affected by the incidents. In these cases, parents who are responsible for perpetrating domestic violence are likely to be denied sole or even joint custody of their child.

However, visitation is considered separately from custody. Visitation orders can be changed or revoked on the basis of a domestic violence complaint, or the court may order some kind of supervised or modified visitation. Courts may also prescribe other options alongside a custody or visitation order, including parenting classes, anger managing classes or domestic violence counseling for one or both parents.

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