Dealing with domestic violence is incredibly difficult, and it can be even more stressful when children are involved. Domestic violence charges and convictions have the potential to affect child custody cases negatively. When making custody determinations, the court's primary focus is on what is in the child's best interests and keeping the child out of harm's way. As a result, the courts take allegations of domestic violence and abuse very seriously. If the courts find someone guilty of domestic violence, they may lose custody of their children.
What Is Considered Domestic Violence in California
In California, domestic violence is defined as abuse or threats that occur between people in an intimate relationship or between people who are closely related. For example, a married couple, domestic partners, dating couples, cohabitating couples, parents and children, siblings, or relatives sharing a home.
Abuse covers a broad category of behaviors and may include:
- Physically hurting or trying to hurt someone
- Making threats or promises to harm someone
- Sexual assault
- Harassment and intimidation
- Stalking or disturbing some one's peace
- Destroying personal property
Additionally, abuse is not purely physical. Abuse can also be verbal, emotional, and psychological. Someone may also suffer from economic abuse. To learn more about how domestic abuse is defined in California, review the CA Courts' website.
How Domestic Violence Allegations Can Impact Child Custody Matters
When making child custody determinations, the courts are required to consider any history or allegations of abuse. In particular, the courts are concerned with cases involving any children the abusive parent is related to, any children the abusive parent has a caretaking relationship with, the other parent, or a parent, spouse, romantic partner, or roommate of the person seeking custody.
The California Family Code mandates matters to be considered in granting custody when there are domestic violence issues. According to the law, if the courts find that a parent seeking custody has perpetrated domestic violence within the last five years against the other parent, the child, or the child's siblings, there is what is called a "rebuttable presumption." In these cases, the courts automatically assume that awarding that parent sole or joint custody is detrimental to the child's best interests.
Overcoming Rebuttable Presumption
Suppose the perpetrator of domestic violence can demonstrate to the courts that giving them sole or joint physical or legal custody is in the child's best interest. In that case, they may overcome the rebuttable presumption. The courts may also consider whether the perpetrator has completed any treatment programs, drug or alcohol abuse counseling, or parenting classes. The courts will also look at whether the perpetrator has complied with any probation, parole, or restraining order requirements.
Developing a Parenting Plan
If a parent or a child has been abused by the other parent, the courts recommend establishing a parenting plan designed to keep everyone safe. These parenting plans should be very specific and outline clear rules for what the parents can and cannot do with the child. For example, when and where visitation will occur or where and how the parents will complete child drop-offs.
To receive a court-ordered parenting plan, the courts will first have the parents meet with a court-appointed mediator to see if the parents can develop a plan that they both agree to. When parents cannot agree, the judge will establish a parenting plan that they feel is in the child's best interest. If you are concerned about your child being alone with their other parent, you can also ask for supervised visitation.
How to Deal with False Accusations of Domestic Violence
The consequences of being found guilty of domestic violence can have serious ramifications on your child custody case. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a parent to falsely accuse another parent of domestic violence or abuse as a means to gain the advantage in a custody dispute. This can be devastating. If you are falsely accused of domestic violence, you should contact an experienced lawyer right away.
Do not ignore domestic violence accusations, and do not assume that your innocence will be obvious to the courts. Just having a protective or restraining order placed against you can jeopardize your custody and visitation rights. Domestic violence charges can even impact your job and your personal rights. A skilled attorney can help you defend yourself against these accusations.