The effects of domestic violence are permanent and far-reaching, affecting the economic, emotional, mental, and physical lives of everyone involved. There are also legal ramifications, because domestic violence affects child custody orders.
This article will explain what domestic violence is and how it affects child custody. If you have any questions after you read this article, consult with a family law attorney for advice.
Victims of domestic violence often don’t seek help because they don’t think they’ve been hurt badly enough for their abuser’s behavior to be considered “abuse.” But under Nevada law, all of the following conduct is domestic violence:
These acts are considered domestic violence if they are committed against people who are commonly referred to as “family or household members,” including:
Dating relationships are frequent and intimate social relationships that carry with them the expectation of affection or sexual contact. Dating relationships don’t include casual business or social relationships.
If you’re a victim of domestic violence, you can go to court and ask for a domestic abuse protection order. To access the forms and information you’ll need, see this page from the Administrative Office of the Nevada Judicial Branch.
Various groups in Nevada are willing and able to help abuse victims regain control of their lives. A.A.R.D.V.A.R.C. (An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection) maintains a comprehensive listing of agencies and hotline telephone numbers. The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence doesn’t provide direct services for victims, but it does provide an up-to-date map that shows specific services available in each Nevada county.
For direct aid, like education, shelter housing, and counseling, victims can contact Safe Nest by calling 1-800-486-7282. Finally, victims can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800799-7233. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Custody takes two basic forms: physical and legal. Physical custody has to do with where a child lives and which parent provides more of the basic care, like meals and bathing. Legal custody, on the other hand, pertains to a parent’s right to have a voice in making major decisions for the child about things like health and education. Custody can be joint (shared) or sole (only given to one parent).
Nevada law does take domestic violence into account in custody cases. Judges must consider at least twelve factors to determine the best interests of a child and decide which parent should have custody. (For more information about how courts generally make these decisions, see Child Custody in Nevada: The Best Interests of the Child, by Susan Bishop.) Two of the factors directly involve domestic violence, as follows:
If there are accusations about domestic violence in a child custody case, the judge has to hold an “evidentiary hearing” (a trial before a judge without a jury) to decide whether a parent has engaged in one or more acts of domestic violence against the other parent, the child, or another family or household member.
If, after concluding the evidentiary hearing, the court finds by “clear and convincing evidence” (which is very strong evidence that doesn’t quite rise to the level of reasonable doubt) that an abusive parent has committed acts of domestic violence, then the judge must apply a “rebuttable presumption” (a legal assumption) that giving custody to the abuser is not in the child’s best interests. This means that the abusive parent will probably not get custody of the children unless the parent can present solid evidence to negate (rebut) the presumption.
The judge has to give the parents a written order explaining the facts and law supporting the custody decision and why the court concluded that domestic violence occurred. From that point on, the court’s paramount concern will be protecting the child, the victim parent, and other abuse victims.
Once a judge has found that an abusive parent perpetrated acts of domestic violence, the court is empowered to take acts necessary to keep the other parent and the child safe. Examples of what the court might order include:
In the most extreme and grievous of cases, it is possible for a parent’s rights to be terminated. This means that a parent loses all rights to both the physical and legal custody of a child.
Termination of parental rights (“TPR”) happens when a parent has abandoned or neglected a child, become unfit to provide care, or caused serious mental, physical or emotional abuse. Judges rarely use this remedy and only in the most terrible cases.
TPR is permanent, meaning that once a parent’s rights are terminated, they can never be regained.