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If a couple divorces and there has been domestic violence, how is custody decided?

During the divorce process, you may have to make a number of decisions about the future of your children. There is a great deal of emphasis by the courts on cooperation between divorcing parents. Remember, however, that mediation and joint custody arrangements can be dangerous for survivors of domestic violence and their children. You can ask the court to waive mandatory mediation because you are a victim of domestic violence.

Don't assume that mothers are favored in custody disputes. Sometimes courts favor the friendly parent, or the parent who seems most cooperative, so avoid making negative statements about your former spouse during the divorce process. Instead, focus on what is best for the children. However, it is still important to let the courts know about the abuse because it does bear on what is in the best interests of the children.

If you develop a post-divorce parenting plan with your children's other parent, be specific. Don't assume your former spouse will cooperate because he or she promises to or is being nice during the divorce process. Get in writing what is expected of each of you in your new roles and what steps will be taken if there is a need to change the plan.

When making these decisions, think about the long-term well-being of your children. Many survivors of abuse just want to get the divorce over with so they can move on with their lives. In doing so, they compromise the safety of themselves and their children. Avoid compromising out of fear or for the sake of getting it over with. However, it is still important to take your safety seriously. Do not hesitate to go into protective custody or a shelter and to get an escort to court and elsewhere.

For more information about legal issues related to domestic violence, see Domestic violence and the law: A practical guide for survivors. This is a free brochure published by the Young Lawyers' Section of the Missouri Bar. It is available at, or by calling (573) 635-4128.



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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