Relationships Quick Answers
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
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 http://www.mobar.org, 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
Last update: Wednesday, August 20, 2008