Berman & Asbel, LLP

Dealing with domestic violence concerns in family court

A Pennsylvania parent affected by domestic violence might assume that this issue would be seriously evaluated in family court as matters of child custody and parenting time are decided. However, the matter might not receive as much attention as anticipated if the children have not been physically abused themselves. Further, some judges are more likely to consider abusive patterns to be a function of stress rather than evidence of efforts to manipulate.

Evaluations used in deciding matters of child custody could hinge on the attitude and demeanor of an individual who alleges domestic abuse. If that party appears to be particularly defiant or angry, for example, an evaluator might decide that the individual is attempting to create a division in the relationship between the children and the other parent. The effects of domestic abuse might be inaccurately deemed to be a sign of mental illness in some cases.

If an abusive parent is provided ample visitation time after a divorce, especially in an unsupervised setting, there is potential for abusive behavior to continue. For example, he or she might make statements about the other parent that influence the opinions of the children. These opinions might later be expressed directly to that other parent, allowing hurt to be inflicted.

Joint physical and legal custody is recommended by custody evaluators in nearly 50 percent of cases in which mothers have suffered domestic violence at the hand of the other parent. Criminal courts tend to have a better record than family courts of protecting domestic violence victims.

A parent who has been the victim of domestic abuse might seek legal counsel well in advance of filing for divorce and child custody. This may provide time to document examples of abuse and its impact not only on that parent but also on the children.

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