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Helton Law Firm, PLLC

How abusive parents might still pursue child custody

Tennessee parents who are leaving an abusive marriage may face a custody challenge from the other parent. The American Psychological Association found that while most people assume that an abusive parent will be kept away from the children once the other parent leaves, this is often not the case. In fact, because family courts are focused on trying to keep children in contact with both parents, they may downplay reports of abuse. A study in 2012 by the American Judges Association found that in more than two-thirds of challenged cases, abusive spouses convinced a judge that the abused parent should not have sole custody or was unfit.

One issue is that many custody evaluators may not have experience with domestic violence. They may expect an abused parent to act in a certain way, such as sad and depressed instead of angry or confused, or they might decide that a parent who suffers from depression as a result of abuse is mentally unstable.

A congressional resolution introduced by a representative from Texas that would require family courts to thoroughly investigate any abuse allegations before moving forward has languished in committee for two years. It has bipartisan support, and if passed, it would limit the access abusive parents have to both former spouses and their children.

In addition to situations in which there has been abuse, parents may also be concerned about another parent's neglect or substance abuse or even the possibility of an international abduction if the parent has ties in another country. Parents may want to discuss these concerns with an attorney and talk about what steps can be taken to protect children. For example, the parent could be prohibited from taking the child out of the country. The parent might also be limited to supervised visitation only or may be denied any access to the child.

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