How Child Abuse Can Affect Legal Rights to Custody
While many custodial cases are contentious, the foremost concern of most parents is the wellbeing of their child. It is an unfortunate reality, however, that in some cases a child is not safe with his or her parent. In cases where a parent has a history of domestic abuse or one parent suspects the other parent may be placing the child in an environment where there is a danger of abuse, court intervention is likely required for the protection of the child. While it is of utmost importance for a parent to protect his or her child, child abuse allegations are taken very seriously by the courts and are not to be made lightly.
A professional – a doctor, a therapist, or a child psychologist – may help identify signs of abuse.
Child abuse is not limited to causing a child physical harm, as causing a child psychological harm or mental distress constitutes child abuse as well. While physical symptoms of abuse such as bruises and abrasions can be easy to identify, signs of psychological abuse can be subtler, and may include a child becoming withdrawn or disinterested in activities he or she previously enjoyed. It is important for parents to be aware of any signs of abuse, as a child who is being abused may be too young to report his or her abuse or may be reluctant to express he or she is being abused.
A person who has a history of domestic violence in romantic relationships may be prone to other forms of abuse. As such, it is important for a parent to report any instances of domestic violence involving the co-parent, as it is a factor courts consider in evaluating the division of custody of a child. Even if neither parent is abusive, one parent may live with someone who poses a threat to his or her child. As such, in addition to the domestic violence history of each parent, the court looks at the domestic violence history of anyone living in the same household as each parent.
What to Do When Abuse is Suspected
Courts generally like to keep the parent-child relationship intact and will only deny custody or visitation to a parent if it is in the best interest of the child. In cases involving child abuse, it may be necessary to prohibit the abuser from accessing the child. If a parent suspects his or her child is being abused by his or her co-parent or a member of the co-parent’s household, he or she can petition the court for an order limiting or eliminating the custody rights of the co-parent. If the court finds evidence the child is being abused it will issue either a temporary order or final order with whatever custody terms are necessary for the safety of the child.
If you suspect potential abuse or harm, you should contact a lawyer. Unless you are certain that your child will experience abuse or harm during visitation, you cannot unilaterally decide to cancel the visitation. You may be held in contempt.
In some cases, the court can set forth a custody order that allows both parents to spend time with the child without putting the child in harm’s way. One method the court may invoke is to order supervised visitation. A parent subject to a supervised visitation order is only allowed to spend time with his or her child with another adult present. Supervised visitation orders vary from orders that only allow a parent to visit a child at a set location, at a set time, with a designated person supervising the interaction, to merely dictating that the parent must be supervised by another adult during all visits with the child.
In other cases the court may find it necessary to terminate the abusive parents’ rights to custody of the child. The court may direct a parent to seek treatment or counseling in hopes of addressing any anger issues so that reunification with the child may be possible at a later date. In cases where there is evidence of child abuse, the abusive parent may face criminal charges as well.