How Does Domestic Violence Impact Child Custody?

Even if a child is not physically harmed, witnessing domestic violence can take an emotional toll on a child. For this reason, family courts in New Jersey and across the nation take claims of domestic violence very seriously. Since it is the court’s job to ensure children are in the care of a safe and responsible parent or guardian, allegations of domestic abuse in the home are likely to impact the outcome of a child custody case.

What is Domestic Violence According to New Jersey State Law?

According to New Jersey state law, domestic violence is considered a pattern of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse. Domestic violence does not always involve a physical assault. The legal definition is far more wide-reaching. All of these offenses are considered domestic violence in New Jersey:

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Contempt
  • Criminal coercion
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal restraint
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Criminal trespass
  • Cyber harassment
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault

There are also other offenses that are considered as domestic violence as well.

Factors Considered in Child Custody Cases

When the courts make determinations about child custody, they assess a variety of factors about each parent’s fitness to establish the ideal scenario for the child. They look at how involved the parents have been in raising the child to this point, their overall lifestyles, and if they work and can provide for them. The goal is for the child to grow up in a safe and stable environment that allows them to grow and thrive at every age and stage of development.

Allegations or charges of domestic violence play a large role in custody arrangements. The family court judge wants to know:

  • Did the child witness the domestic violence?
  • What was the nature of the domestic violence act?
  • Was the domestic violence a one-time act or part of a pattern of abuse?
  • If criminal charges were filed?
  • Has a restraining order been issued?

Overall, the court wants to determine if the parent poses a threat to their child, their ex-spouse, friends, family, and the general public.

Will My Abusive Ex-Spouse Get Visitation?

The judge is required to consider a parent’s history of domestic abuse when determining child custody. Since no two cases are alike, they look at the dynamic of the family in its entirety when making custody decisions. They will grant visitation with a parent unless there are concerns about the child’s mental, emotional, and physical safety.

Spending time with a parent who exhibits a pattern of domestic abuse is not in the child’s best interests. In that case, the court may protect the child by prohibiting overnight visits or requiring supervision by an approved third-party person during scheduled visits. For more serious situations, the court can ban visitation altogether until the parent in question attends parenting classes or gets counseling and demonstrates that they are fit to parent.

When it comes to keeping children safe, it is critical for the family court to grasp the severity of the situation. A lawyer’s job is to build a solid case and show the judge why a parent is unsafe or unstable.

What Should I Do if I am Experiencing Domestic Violence?

If one is experiencing domestic violence or abuse, they should take the following steps.

Make a Safety Plan

When dealing with a partner who is abusive in any way, the first step is to make a plan to get out. Start saving money and pack bags with clothes and toiletries for everyone who is leaving. Store these items out of the home if it is possible.

Since the most dangerous time for abuse victims is when they leave the relationship, have a safety plan in place. Arrange to stay somewhere safe where the abusive person would not think to look. Keep plans private and do not discuss leaving with anyone except a trusted support system.

Document the Abuse

If the plan is to go for physical and legal custody of the children, the court needs to see that the ex-spouse is abusive and poses a risk to the children. Carefully and discreetly gather evidence of domestic violence. Photographs of injuries, police reports, and eyewitness accounts all help build a case for custody. Make sure to save emails, texts, and social media activity as well. If other people witnessed the domestic violence, ask if they are willing to go on the record and document their experiences.

Contact a Lawyer

Child custody cases involving domestic violence claims are especially complex. When a child’s health and wellness are at stake, it is imperative to hire an experienced lawyer. The lawyer takes the evidence and builds a case.

File an Order of Protection

For some abuse victims, their lives and the lives of their children are in danger. In New Jersey, a restraining order is issued to protect a victim of domestic violence. A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a lengthy document that includes information about the alleged assaulter or defendant. In the TRO, the plaintiff asks for certain forms of relief. This a long list of possible forms of relief, but the most common include:

  • Prohibiting the defendant from harassing the plaintiff.
  • Prohibiting the defendant from going to a home, school, or workplace.
  • Prohibiting the defendant from following, stalking, or threating to harm the plaintiff.
  • Asking the court for temporary child custody.

Violating a TRO can bring civil or criminal charges for the defendant. In addition to all of this information, the TRO includes a notice to appear for both parties to attend a final restraining order hearing. At this hearing, the judge can decide to make the restraining order permanent.

If the defendant is an immediate risk of bodily injury with a weapon to themselves or others, the judge may issue an extreme risk protective order, which prohibits the person from having access to guns.

How Do I Get a Restraining Order?

To get a TRO, contact the local or state police department or the family division of the superior court in the county of residence. It is a good idea to reach out to a trusted lawyer first to assist with this process. After completing the necessary paperwork, the judge will review it and determine whether or not to issue a TRO. The hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

It is important for victims of domestic abuse in all its forms to know they are not alone. There are many online resources to assist domestic violence and abuse victims. Most parents will do anything to protect their children from abuse of any kind. The courts take each and every allegation of domestic violence seriously. However, they also want to see children spend quality time with both parents if they are fit.

Child custody and visitation matters are especially delicate, and the wrong decision can impact a young person’s life in countless ways. Anyone with valid concerns about their child’s welfare should hire an experienced lawyer to fight for custody.

Woodbridge Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Children During Divorce

The Woodbridge child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. understand the emotional ramifications of domestic violence and poor custody arrangements. For more information about your case, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.