While some people think that family law and criminal law are two separate areas that don’t interact, the two fields are often intertwined with one another. Whether it’s inside or outside of the court room, a domestic violence case can most certainly impact a person’s child custody case.

domestic violence impact on custody; DV and family law

Domestic Violence in the United States

For those who fortunately haven’t been exposed to domestic violence, it can often be hard to truly understand its prevalence and severity. In a 2010 summary report of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, or NISVS, researchers found that one out of three women and one out of four men have experienced physical violence from their partner, including behaviors like slapping and pushing. In another report studying domestic violence from 2003 to 2012, researchers discovered that 15% of all violent crime can be attributed to intimate partner violence. What we see a lot of the time is the person who’s acting in self-defense getting tagged with the DV case.

Naturally, this describes just some of the violence that can occur between intimate partners, but what about children? The sad truth is that one out of fifteen children are in some way exposed to this kind of violence, and 90% of those children are witnesses. In Colorado, it’s common to see Child Abuse charges being secondary counts even just for being in the house at the time of a DV incident (likewise, Child Abuse counts are added to DUI’s for having kids in the car).  It’s not just young children who can be affected by witnessing or enduring domestic violence: it can affect children of all ages, just like it can affect adults who experience it. While how children act in response to violence can always vary, the general trend is that children around the preschool age revert back to previous behavior they may have grown out of. These behaviors include bed-wetting, crying and whining, and even increased separation anxiety. With children around elementary and middle school ages, they may internalize what they experience and twist it into feelings of guilt and shame. They may experience social impacts like losing friends or physical impacts like stomach pains. As for teenagers and older kids, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence tends to affect them more socially and emotionally than anything else: boys tend to act out in a rebellious and dangerous way, engaging in risky behavior and bullying, while girls are more often reserved and withdrawn from friends and family.

Regardless of age and gender, domestic violence can impact anybody in a physical, emotional, and social way. Although domestic violence can go unreported, which may benefit the abuser in a divorce and child custody case, there is still hope for those experiencing abuse when trying to divorce their spouse. As a firm that handles both criminal defense and victim representation in criminal court, we have a unique perspective when it comes to our family law clients going through these kinds of situations. We can help on both sides, and we have been trained in child-trauma and trauma-informed-representation.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

When the courts determine custody here in Colorado, they consider many factors before coming to a decision. Among these are whether either parent has neglected or abused their child, and whether one parent has abused the other. So, regardless of whether you wish to keep the two cases separate from each other, domestic violence will inevitably be brought up in a child custody case.

However, what constitutes domestic violence, and does it matter whether you have a case in court at the time of the child custody hearings? Well, to answer the last question, no, it doesn’t: abuse and neglect don’t need the legal action and label of “domestic violence” to be considered in a child custody case. Also, domestic violence houses a huge umbrella of more specific behaviors and speech. For example, some of these include:

  • “verbal abuse (like shouting, yelling, or name-calling)
  • physical violence (like hitting, slapping, or choking)
  • emotional abuse (including behaviors that make you feel afraid or unimportant)
  • economic abuse (like controlling all of the household finances), and
  • psychological abuse (like intimidation and threats)”

However, to the benefit of the abuser, the court will still take into consideration the many other factors that go into determining parenting time and custody. This means that although a parent may have neglected or abused their child or spouse, other factors like the best interest of the child can still outweigh the domestic violence. Now, keep in mind that this all depends on the context and isn’t the case in every situation in which there is an abusive parent.

What to Do if You Are Facing This Issue?

If you have a criminal case pending during a divorce or an allocation of parental responsibilities case, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. This is the best decision when facing any sort of legal conflict. Although you do possess the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, the chances are high that your criminal case and/or domestic violence case will be involved in your divorce or child custody case. What you want to avoid is taking the stand in either case (domestic violence or child custody) and admit to something that can be used against you in your other case. So, it’s crucial that you speak to your lawyer about issues like these immediately.

Also, if there is a mandatory protection order issued in a criminal law case, the chances are high that you’ll be required to vacate a residence while the alleged victim is allowed to stay in that residence. Unfortunately, that may leave you with limited options of where you can go during that time. That may certainly impact your family law case, so it’s highly recommended that you speak with a family law attorney about how to address those issues as quickly as possible with the court.

Other Resources…

Ultimately, domestic violence will inevitably be brought up in a custody case, and it can have a significant impact on the decision the court makes. It’s important that both parties in a divorce and child custody case speak to their attorneys. Even if an abuser doesn’t have a domestic violence case brought against them during a custody case, abuse and neglect can still be brought up.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic violence, do not hesitate to seek help. You can reach help by calling the National Domestic Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or visiting their website here.

Interested in learning more about divorce? Check out our recent blog post about economic stressors and divorce here.

Need Legal Help?

If you are in need of criminal defense or family law help in Denver (and yeah, we do some animal law things outside of criminal defense and family law, too) consider reaching out to Colorado Lawyer Team for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://CoLawTeam.com or call 970.670.0378.

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