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Custody and visitation in the domestic violence scenario

Domestic violence, an extremely difficult aspect of some relationships, becomes even more complicated to adjudicate when there are children in the family.

As described by the Judicial Branch of California, the rights of parents to custody of and visitation with the children will likely change if there is an additional factor of domestic violence. If a judge finds DV, he must use special rules to decide custody.

There are laws that deal with custody and visitation rights of parents in cases of domestic violence. First, the judge must decide if there is DV and if there is, the judge must follow special rules to decide custody of the children. The judge will look back for a five-year period to determine if there is relevant DV. There need not be a conviction of DV for a judge to decide it took place.


Typically, a judge will not put custody of the children with the parent found to have engaged in the abuse. However, visitation with that parent would not be unusual.

Nonetheless, the judge may have discretion to award custody to the parent that engaged in DV, if need be, under certain stringent circumstances. That parent must establish many accomplishments, including the following:

  • Has not engaged in any further DV
  • Complied with any restraining order
  • Completed a 52-week DV intervention program
  • Complied with any court ordered probation or parole
  • Has completed any drug abuse counseling or parenting classes if so ordered by court
  • Has proven it is in the best interests of the child

Supervised visitation

When DV has been an issue, a judge can restrict the abusing parent’s visitation to require a supervisor oversee the visitation. A judge may order supervised visitation under additional circumstances, including the following:

  • A purpose in reintroducing an absentee parent to the child
  • A need to help start a relationship between parent and child if there has never been one
  • A history of substance abuse
  • A background involving child neglect
  • A concern for proper parenting or mental illness
  • An apprehension regarding threat of kidnapping by the parent

As always, the judge’s decisions on custody and visitation revolve around the best interests of the child at all times.

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