Why some domestic abuse survivors must still fight for custody

New Jersey parents who leave abusive relationships might still find themselves in a custody battle with their abusive spouses. According to the American Psychological Association, most people assume that leaving a relationship because of abuse means the parent and child will be protected from the abusive parent, but this is often not the case. The APA says that because courts are dedicated to keeping children in contact with both parents, they often dismiss allegations of abuse.

A Texas representative has introduced a congressional resolution aimed at extending greater protection to parents and their children who are leaving abusive relationships. The resolution would require courts to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse before moving ahead with any further decisions regarding custody. However, the bill has been in committee for two years although it has the support of numerous domestic violence organizations and both Republican and Democrat lawmakers. Guidelines from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in 2016 also recommend investigations into domestic violence reports.

According to Representative Ted Poe, who introduced the resolution, and various experts, one problem lies with custody evaluators who are not trained in domestic violence. They may think that domestic violence survivors should behave in a certain way, such as depressed instead of angry, or they may declare an abused parent who has PTSD and depression as too mentally unstable for custody.

When a child's well-being is not in question, many experts do recommend that he or she spends time with both parents even if they disagree about certain aspects of raising their child. Parents may share legal custody, which gives both parties decision-making responsibilities on issues like health care and education even if one person has physical custody and the other individual has visitation rights. Parents can create a parenting plan that addresses this schedule and also makes consistent household rules for the child to follow.

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