Domestic Violence and Child Custody: Keeping the Kids Safe

As parents, our primary goal is to protect our children. Unfortunately, that isn’t always an easy task. There are times when the actions and behaviors of others make it difficult to protect ourselves and our kids. Domestic violence is sadly familiar, with an average of 24 people per minute falling victim to abuse. 

Often, domestic abuse isn’t solely experienced by an adult. It can shift toward children in the home, making them the victims of domestic violence, too. This makes it even harder for the abused adult to act because not only are they suffering their own fear and abuse, but they also must now wonder how to keep their child safe if they can’t keep themselves safe.

My spouse abuses our child

Perhaps you have found yourself in a pattern of abuse for many years with your spouse. You feel you have done an excellent job hiding the abuse from your children, family, and friends. However, as it commonly happens, your abusive spouse’s patterns have escalated, and they have become more violent with your child. 

You fear what would happen if you fought back, demanded they stop, or reported it to the authorities. This is a common fear for anyone in this scenario. However, you build up the courage to do what’s right because your child deserves to be safe and free from harm. You develop a safety plan to get yourself and your child out of the home and somewhere safe. You also report the abuse to local law authorities, and you request an emergency protection order (EPO). 

The next step is to pursue a divorce and decide how to start a new life while keeping yourself and your child safe. You establish a plan and find a safe place to stay. Now, it’s time to figure out what is needed legally to pursue a divorce and establish custody. 

What is considered abusive parenting?

While all forms of abuse are wrong, they are not all equal. Therefore, the responses you get may not be the same. Family courts are familiar with most of these types of abuse, but the hardest to prove and address tend to be psychological and emotional abuse. 

  • Emotional abuse: Calling them names, insulting them, destroying their self-esteem, handing out derogatory comments
  • Psychological abuse: Manipulation, isolating them from friends and family, gaslighting, placing guilt trips on them, being overly controlling 
  • Sexual abuse or sexual assault: Any inappropriate touching, fondling, exposing oneself, sharing obscene images, taking inappropriate photos, and so on
  • Physical abuse: Any form of physical contact meant to harm another person, such as hitting, biting, kicking, throwing items, and so on is physical violence.

How can I keep my child safe?

Once you have made a safety plan, packed, and acted on your exit strategy, you might wonder what to do next to protect your child’s well-being. 

Legally, you can file an emergency protection order against the abuser. Once filed, it is essentially a restraining order keeping the abuser away from your child. Once this is filed, some states may also grant temporary sole custody until a full custody hearing occurs. 

Depending on state regulations, an investigation may need to happen to gather as much evidence to support the best interests of the child. A judge may order the abuser to attend a court-mandated course or even counseling before granting any form of visitation. A judge may also appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate on behalf of the child and recommend what is felt to be best (and safest) for the child. 

Be sure to comply with all requests and rulings by the court. It can also be beneficial to seek professional help, such as therapy, for yourself and your child. 

What if I have no money?

When legal assistance is needed, there are often financial concerns. Luckily, resources are available to help those who might not have the funds to hire an attorney. For example, every state offers legal aid services because no one deserves to go without help simply because of financial constraints. 

Though each state may have specific rules and regulations, there should still be legal assistance for family law (including divorce and custody), employment issues, and housing rights. 

How can I get full custody of my child?

As a general rule, the court system operates with the thought process of what is in the best interest of the child. Judges review multiple aspects of care and support provided by parents to determine if there are concerns about any of the following:

  • Abuse or neglect 
  • Education
  • Safety 
  • General welfare

In an ideal world, children receive equal time with both parents. But that may not be the case if one or both parents behave in ways that place the children at risk for harm. For example, if one parent is physically abusive, has a substance abuse problem, or is involved in criminal activity, they may not qualify for custody in the eyes of the court. They may also receive limited (or no) visitation.

Every case should be viewed individually, as no two cases are the same. The court will want to review each custodial adult, their behaviors, patterns, employment history, and anything that may be of concern. The judge may also appoint an advocate for the child – someone who will act on behalf of the child based on what they see, hear, or learn from the child. 

If there are areas of concern (such as abuse), it is vital to be honest with the court system so they can respond accordingly to protect the child. 

Could my child’s abusive parent get visitation rights?

In some cases, the abusive parent may be granted supervised visitation rights. There are many variables here, and each case may be different, depending on the frequency and type of abuse. The court may consider whether the abuse was only toward the spouse, whether it was only verbal (not physical), and if there was any sexual abuse involvement. These factors (and many others) could impact the court’s decision. 

Even if allowed supervised visitation, a common concern is who will supervise the visits. At times, a family member of the abuser may be allowed to supervise the visits. Other times, it might be a court-appointed state social worker. This determination will be made by the court system once they gather all the details necessary to determine the safest way to protect a child and promote a healthy relationship with both parents. 

Final thoughts

Domestic violence is a devastating experience, and it is even more brutal when abusive behavior is transferred to children. It is extremely hard to break the cycle of abuse and run from an abuser. 

But a parent must protect their children. 

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship or suspect someone is abusing your child, help is available. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline today to speak with an advocate. Hello Divorce offers many services to those seeking a divorce or other support. Reach out today! 


Domestic Violence Statistics.

Health Content Specialist
Communication, Relationships, Mental Health, Physical Health
Krystle Maynard is the creator of Innovative RN Solutions and has been a nurse for over a decade. She has specialized in medical-surgical and critical care nursing, in addition to having a long-standing history of being an adjunct faculty member for a college of nursing. Innovative RN Solutions focuses on healthcare content writing (such as blogs, E-books, emails, academic coursework, and educational content for healthcare personnel and patients). Krystle also offers tutoring and mentor services for undergraduate and graduate nurses. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and children. If you would like to connect, you can reach her on LinkedIn or visit her website at Innovative RN Solutions.