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How can parents in domestic violence situations prepare for divorce and custody decisions?

Getting an attorney

Many abused women fear losing custody of their children to their abusive husbands. If any aspect of the custody arrangement or visitation is being disputed, get an attorney!

Be sure to ask about attorneys who offer their services at a reduced fee or on a no-charge (pro bono) basis. You can also check with your local legal services office or the State Bar Association to see if you qualify for reduced-fee representation. Sometimes they give preference to victims of domestic violence.

Representing yourself

If custody arrangements and visitation are being disputed and you cannot afford an attorney, you can represent yourself in court. Seek out expert advice from local domestic violence programs, law school legal clinics, and the State Bar Association. To reduce the costs of representing yourself, ask the court to waive fees you are unable to pay. Only represent yourself if you have no way of getting an attorney.

Protecting yourself

Whether or not you are representing yourself in court, you should keep copies and records of the following:

  • Written records of all interactions with the abuser, including exact times and dates children are picked up and returned, dates and amounts of child support, and any violations of court orders of protection
  • Documentation of abuse, including police reports, medical records, photographs, and claims for crime victim compensation
  • Certified copy of marriage certificate
  • Rent receipts, bank statements, utility bills, credit card records, children's report cards

These documents may be necessary when going to court over custody arrangements or visitation. You may also need them if there are future incidents of abuse or motions to modify custody or child support.



Ann Huey, Graduate Student, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia

Jennifer Hardesty, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University

Kim Leon, Former State Extension Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia





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Last update: Wednesday, August 20, 2008




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