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How does domestic violence affect child custody in California?

One of the more difficult issues to navigate in a California child custody case is if there is a history of domestic violence. While a relationship with children is desirable for both parents, the best interests of the child take precedence. Multiple factors must be weighed when there are domestic violence issues and the parents should be aware of how the state handles these matters. There are plans in which parenting time and visitation rights can be given to a parent who has been accused of abuse, but the key is safety for the child and the other parent.

The judge in the case will determine if domestic violence was taking place. If it is determined that it was, it will be assessed as a domestic violence case if one of the following happened in the previous five years: a parent had been convicted of domestic violence against the other parent or there was a court decision that stated there was domestic violence against the other parent or the child. The court can take into consideration if the case goes beyond five years. In general, when there is a determination that it is a domestic violence case, the judge is not allowed to grant custody to the parent who committed it. The parent can receive visitation rights.

There are circumstances in which joint or sole custody can be given to the parent who committed the domestic violence if that parent meets the following requirements: shows the court that custody is in the child's best interests; a 52-week batterer's intervention program was completed; a program to treat substance abuse was completed if it had been ordered; a parenting class was completed if it had been ordered; the parent is on probation or parole and adhered to its terms; the parent has a restraining order and adhered to it; and that the parent has not committed any more domestic violence incidents.

A child is often better-served to have contact with both parents after they have parted ways as a couple provided the parents are able to care for the child. If there is an abusive situation and one parent committed domestic violence, the state will take steps to make sure the child is safe and can still seek a relationship with the parent. In these cases, the abused and the abuser should make sure they are protected under the law with help from an attorney experienced in child custody and visitation.

Source: courts.ca.gov, "Custody and Domestic Violence," accessed on March 13, 2018

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