How Domestic Abuse Affects Your Custody Rights
Your relationship with your children can be difficult and emotional, particularly when they are in their formative years. Tempers often can fly, with devastating consequences. When there’s a history of domestic violence or abuse, courts take great care to ensure minor children are safe as possible. Such measures often have a direct impact on custody arrangements.
The Determination of Child Custody
In New Jersey, as in all states, the primary goal in determining custody and visitation is the best interest of the child. A court will look at various factors when making that assessment, including any history of domestic violence and the safety of all parties. These considerations are not optional—they are mandatory. Accordingly, if there have been allegations or documented instances of domestic violence or abuse, the court must pay heed to them.
There are two types of custody rights relating to minor children in New Jersey: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to participate in decisions regarding the child’s welfare, including educational, health, religious, and special needs decisions. Physical custody refers to the child’s primary residence. As a general rule, a domestic violence allegation or charge is far more likely to have an impact on physical custody than legal custody. Because the court is tasked with protecting the best interests of the child, a parent with a history of domestic violence is less likely to get physical custody than a parent with no such history.
The Determination of Visitation
A court will award visitation based on the same guiding principle—the best interests of the child. When it comes to visitation, the court may address its concerns about prior instances of domestic violence in a number of ways:
- Disallowing overnight visitation,
- Ordering supervised visitation only, or
- Denying visitation entirely.
Often, when a court denies visitation, it will condition reinstitution of visitation on the perpetrator of domestic violence participating in anger management or other counseling.