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Signs of Child Abuse in Parental Custody Agreements

A custody agreement can be a matter of contention in many divorce cases. Most parents, however, want what is best for their children – even if that means compromising on parenting time or giving up some holidays. In some families, however, the sad truth is that a parent may not want what is best for the child…and could even be the reason the child is unsafe. It is critical for judges and other court staff to recognize the potential signs of child abuse in parental custody agreements. Only then can they can arrange interventions and protect children from crimes at the hands of abusive parents.

If you suspect your child is experiencing abuse, negligence or hardship from a parent or supervising adult throughout a divorce or custody arrangement, contact our office today to speak with an attorney from our experienced team to learn your best legal options.

History of Domestic Violence

A parent with a history of domestic violence or abuse is more likely to abuse his or her children in the future. The courts will examine the criminal histories of both parents when determining custody. A judge will rule according to what is best for the safety and wellbeing of the child. A history of domestic violence in police reports or criminal convictions will sway the judge in the other parent’s favor. If no one ever called the police against the abusive parent, however, it may be up to a spouse, friends or family members who know the truth to intervene and prevent the courts from assigning custody to the violent parent. The spouse fighting for custody should tell the judge about the other parent’s history of violence, aggression or abuse.

Substance Abuse

A history of substance abuse could also be a red flag for a judge during a custody case. Allegations that one parent struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction could lead to an investigation. If a judge finds evidence that supports the allegation, he or she may award custody to the other parent, at least until the first parent can receive treatment. Substance use disorders can make a parent unreliable, irresponsible, negligent or even dangerous. Substance abuse often portends domestic violence.

New Spouses Around Kids

A Custody evaluator may be appointed to interview the parents, the children and visit each parent’s home, checking the environments the child would be in should that parent receive custody. If one parent has a new spouse or partner and this person will be around the child, the evaluator will look into that person’s background as well. If the new spouse or partner has a criminal record or a history of domestic violence, this could pose a risk of child abuse and lead to the judge awarding custody to the other parent. Introducing anyone new too soon, even someone without a criminal record, could hurt a parent’s chances of receiving custody if the judge believes it could impact the stability of the home.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious issue that can cause long-lasting psychological harm to a child. It is the ostracization of one parent by the other parent. One parent can engage in parental alienation by psychologically manipulating the child to be against the other parent. Badmouthing the other parent, lying about him or her or encouraging dependent behaviors from the child are examples of parental alienation. A parent that engages in this type of manipulation could be at risk of inflicting other types of harm on the child, such as mental abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. It could be enough for the parent to lose custody.

Changes in the Child

Before ruling on a custody order, a judge will look at the child’s behaviors, emotions, actions and wishes, not just those of the parents. The courts will often assign social workers and therapists to assess the child. If the child expresses signs of potential abuse regarding one parent, such as fear, apprehension, guilt, anxiety, anger or depression, it could lead to further investigation of the parent. Other signs of abuse can include isolation, withdrawal, emotional outbursts, poor performance in school and physical injuries. The courts in California take signs of potential child abuse very seriously during custody cases. They will thoroughly investigate the issue before assigning custody to either parent.