Custody and Visitation

Custody Disputes

Men who ask for custody of their children often get it today, whether or not they have a history of violence. An abusive man is more likely than a nonviolent father to seek sole physical custody.

Whether to agree to joint custody or to fight for sole custody is a difficult decision. Basically, sole custody means one of you makes all the decisions without having to ask the other parent. Joint custody means that you both have an equal voice in making major decisions regarding medical care, religious upbringing and education. Joint custody can work only when both parents are willing to make the concessions and compromises necessary to make decisions regarding their children. Abusers are interested in control, not compromise or cooperation. They often use joint custody to keep control over you and the children after the divorce is final.

Family courts often favor joint custody arrangements. When this isn't possible, they favor the parent who appears most "friendly" to joint custody. By law, visitation is the father's right and he can choose whether or not it is convenient for him to exercise that right. Courts hold firmly that it is always within the children's best interest to maintain a close relationship with both parents. Being awarded or retaining physical custody of the children depends greatly on your willingness and ability to foster a close relationship between your batterer and your children. You will be required to do everything possible to accommodate his needs regarding visitation. This means being flexible regarding his rotating days off, shift changes and vacations.

More and more abused mothers are losing custody or visitation rights. Courts may ignore or minimize reports of abuse and raising allegations of child abuse may hurt rather than help your case. Some lawyers advise women not to tell courts or mediators about their abuse because many judges believe women exaggerate violent incidents to manipulate the court. Abusers often appear to be the perfect parent during court appearances while mothers appear overly concerned with the safety of their children. Some kids don't want to go on visitation because they are afraid of their father. If the court believes that the children may be in danger when they visit with their father, the judge may order that his visitation be supervised by a relative or a court-appointed professional. However, if the judge or the attorneys think that the children are afraid of their father because you project your fears onto them, you will be held responsible for contaminating the relationship between them and their father. You must be extremely careful how you present any information about your abuse or that of your children. Women who tell custody mediators they are victims of domestic violence often receive less favorable custody decisions.

Parental Alienation

An abuser who claims that the mother is alienating the children from him can gain a huge legal advantage in a custody dispute. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was created as a defense tactic by fathers' rights attorneys to attack the credibility of mothers and undermine the testimony of children who accuse their fathers of sexual abuse. They claim a child's allegations of abuse are the result of a psychiatric disorder caused by the mother. They portray the protective parent — usually the mother — as an evil "alienator" who turns a vulnerable child against the other parent — usually the father. The "cure" is for the child to have greater contact with the abusive parent and little or no contact with the protective parent. PAS has been widely discredited as junk science by both mental health professionals and the courts. It has no scientific foundation. Some courts accept it anyway because it fits well with the "friendly parent" preference.

Many people believe mothers commonly use child sexual abuse allegations to gain an advantage in custody disputes and divorces. But in fact, sexual abuse allegations are not common during custody litigation. In those cases where the abuse was not substantiated, the allegations were made in good faith and based on genuine suspicions. When false allegations are raised, fathers are more likely to make false, unfounded or unsubstantiated allegations than mothers.

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Professional Advantages

In civilian cases, police generally avoid getting involved in disputes over visitation. But when the father is a police officer, he is able to enlist the police to help him. For example:

If you tell the judge that you are afraid of the abuser when he picks up or drops off the children for visits, the judge may order the exchange to be done at the police station. This may work for civilian victims, but it obviously presents problems for you:

No matter what, the children get caught in the middle. If the abuser is the father of your children, he knows that he can use the children against you. If he has children from a previous marriage, you can learn a lot about him by how he handles custody and visitation issues.

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