If your child's other parent has been abusive to you or your children, it is very important for you to protect yourself and your children, and find a parenting plan that will help you all stay safe.
You may want to talk with a lawyer to find out the best legal way for you to move forward. In most cities and counties in California, there are domestic violence agencies that can provide you legal help with your custody issues. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline and ask them for domestic violence organizations in your area. Or click to find a legal aid agency in your area.
There are laws that deal with custody and visitation rights of parents in cases of domestic violence. First, the judge must decide if there is domestic violence, and if there is, the judge must follow special rules to decide custody of the children.
The judge will treat your case as a domestic violence case if, in the last 5 years:
Usually, when a judge decides that your case is a domestic violence case, the judge CANNOT give custody (joint or sole custody) to the parent who committed domestic violence. But that parent can get parenting time with the children (visitation rights).
A judge CAN give joint or sole custody to the parent who committed domestic violence if the parent who was abusive:
Read the law about child custody in cases of domestic violence.
Talk to a lawyer about how the law will affect your rights to custody and visitation of your children, whether you are the victim of the domestic violence or the one who committed the abuse. Understanding what the law says and how it applies to your situation can be confusing and there are important rights at stake. Click for help finding a lawyer.
If you and your children's other parent do not agree on a parenting plan for your children, you will have to go to custody mediation (referred to in some courts that provide recommendations as “child custody recommending counseling”) .
In mediation, a "mediator" (or "child custody recommending counselor") tries to help you and the other parent with making a parenting plan for your children. A parenting plan says who the children live with and who makes important decisions for the children.
Mediators work for the courts. They help parents make parenting plans that are good for the children. Mediators know how to work with separated couples, and they are trained to understand domestic violence. If you are worried about your safety or your children's safety, tell the mediator. You can ask to speak with the mediator alone. If there is a restraining order in your case or 1 parent is accusing the other of domestic violence, you have a right to meet separately with the mediator. You can also bring a support person with you to mediation and mediation orientation.
The mediator will try to help you make a parenting plan that:
Mediators can also help with a "safety plan" for you and your children. They can suggest safe ways to get the children to and from visits with the other parent. Mediators can also tell you about getting help with housing, counseling, or financial problems.
To make sure you completely understand the rules in your mediation, ask your mediator to explain the confidentiality/privacy rules.
If you have experienced domestic violence:
If a mediator suspects child abuse, he or she may need to report it. (It is a crime for a parent to file a false report of child abuse against the other parent.) Ask your mediator for a list of places that can help you and your children.
Talk to your mediator about parenting plans that include:
"Supervised visitation" means the children can visit the other parent if another adult is present. Supervised visitation is often a good idea in cases where there is a history or allegations of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or substance abuse. It is also used when there is a threat that 1 parent may kidnap the child. If you are worried about this, tell your mediator and the judge.
If the judge orders supervised visitations, the court order will specify the time and duration of the visits. Sometimes, the court order will also say who the provider (of the supervised visitation) is to be and where the visits are to take place.
Domestic violence can have very harmful effects on children. First, when there is domestic violence in the home, children are at greater risk of being abused or neglected.
But even when they are not “directly” abused, children who witness violence and abuse by 1 parent against another can be affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. Seeing or hearing violence at home can hurt children emotionally, psychologically, and even physically because of the stress they suffer.
Read more about how domestic violence hurts children in: