October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so we thought we would shed some light on the legal effects that Domestic Violence can have on child custody orders. Domestic Violence can have long-term emotional and developmental effects on children beyond a custody order, but a finding of domestic violence can have large effects on child custody arrangements.
In California, the preferred child custody arrangement is joint custody to both parents. (Cal Fam Code §3040.) However, when the court finds that one parent has perpetrated domestic violence against the other during the past five years, this creates what is called a “rebuttable presumption” that it is not in the child’s best interests for the perpetrator to have sole or joint custody. (Cal Fam Code §3044.) This means that in order to receive sole or joint custody, the abusive parent has a burden to show that it would be in the best interest of the child. Basically, a finding of domestic violence makes it more difficult for a perpetrator to have custody of their child.
It is important to keep in mind that custody arrangements can change overtime, as the courts still generally favor joint custody. So, if the perpetrator shows demonstrable improvement in their behavior, they may be able to “rebut” the presumption and regain custody. But, it can be comforting to know that at least in the initial stages, California courts recognize the harmful effects of domestic violence on children.
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS