Custody and Domestic Violence

Safety First

If you or your child has been abused by the other parent, it is very important to have a parenting plan that will keep everyone safe. In domestic violence cases, parenting plans should be detailed so that each parent understands what they are allowed and not allowed to do.

Custody Mediation

In California, if you want the court to order a parenting plan you must first meet with a court professional to see if you and the other parent can agree on a parenting plan– this process is called “mediation.” If you cannot agree on a parenting plan, then a judge will decide on a parenting plan that is best for your child (see below to find more information on custody laws and domestic violence).

The court professional that you will mediate with is called a “mediator” or “child custody recommending counselor.”

Things to think about before your mediation session:

  • You have the right to meet separately and not with the other parent if your case involves domestic violence. Tell court staff as soon as possible if you want a separate session.
  • You may bring a support person with you to mediation and to court. Note that your support person may not speak for you or participate in mediation or in court. You must do the talking.
  • If you are concerned with the other parent having time alone with your child, ask for information on supervised visitation.
  • Ask for detailed orders that make it clear when visits are going to take place.
  • Pick a safe place for drop off and pick up (child exchanges).
  • Should child exchanges happen without you and the other parent seeing each other (for example, one parent drops child off at school and the other picks up from school)?

For more information, read about custody mediation or watch this 30 minute video.

Visit the domestic violence safety planning section of this website for more information on safety plans for you and your children.

Legal Help

You may want to talk with a lawyer to find out the best legal way for you to proceed. Free help is also available at your local self-help center.

Also, in most cities and counties in California, there are domestic violence agencies that can provide legal help with custody issues. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline and ask them for domestic violence organizations in your area.

You can also find information about asking for a domestic violence restraining order and responding to a domestic violence restraining order. Click on the topics below for more information.

It is unsafe for a child to be in a home where abuse or domestic violence happens. Because of this, California has specific laws that must be followed in cases involving domestic violence.

If the domestic violence happened within the last five years, read Domestic Violence and Child Custody to learn more about the law that may apply to your case.

If the domestic violence or abuse happened more than five years ago, a judge can still consider the domestic violence or abuse in making a parenting plan that is best for your child.

Understanding what the law says and how it applies to your situation can be confusing, and there are important rights at stake. Talk to a lawyer or self-help center staff about how the law will affect your rights to your children.

If you are concerned about the physical safety of your children, let the judge or mediator/ child custody recommending counselor know. The court must make orders that are in your child’s best interest and information about their safety is important.

Note that if a mediator or child custody recommending counselor suspects child abuse, they may need to report it to the local child welfare agency (Child Protective Services—CPS).

The following resources provide more information on child abuse: