The effects of domestic violence are far-reaching and can leave visible and invisible scars for years to come. A parent's past record of abuse, also called "domestic violence," may significantly alter the outcome of a child custody case. In cases of chronic abuse, a parent may have limitations placed upon his or her visitation rights, or in the most extreme situations, the abusive parent may lose his or her parental rights entirely.
This article provides a general overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in Utah. If after reading this article you have additional questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Domestic violence ranges from physical and sexual abuse to emotional abuse and its resulting internal wounds. In Utah, domestic violence is actual harm or threats to harm made by a cohabitant or family member. Utah law defines "harm" as hitting, kicking, pushing, stalking, harassing, kidnapping, sexual assault, restricting movement, or breaking or throwing things to intimidate.
In situations where domestic violence is ongoing or there is a fear of future abuse, a protective order may be appropriate. Utah's court website provides protective order forms and basic information about obtaining a protective order. In order to obtain a protective order, you must show that you have been harmed or threatened by one of the following categories of individuals:
If a judge determines that domestic violence has occurred in your case and is likely to occur in the future without court intervention, your protective order will be granted.
If you or your child is victim of domestic violence, you can get help from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and through Utah Legal Services. Additionally, you can call Utah's statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) for shelter information and additional support services.
Central to any custody decision is what sort of living and visitation arrangement best serves the child's emotional well-being. Utah recognizes two types of custody: legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (where the child resides).
While Utah courts prefer joint or shared custody situations, a history of domestic violence could serve as justification for a judge to deviate from a joint custody arrangement and limit the abusive parent's visitation with his or her child. Read more about Child Custody in Utah.
In determining the best interests of the child, evidence of domestic violence is one of several factors considered and weighed in a custody decision. A single, unreported incident of domestic violence does not automatically mean a parent will lose visitation rights. However, a chronic history of abuse or a parent's failure to protect his or her children from domestic violence could result in restrictions on custody and visitation or a complete termination of parental rights.
Supervised visitation may be required in cases of chronic or recent domestic violence; it requires the presence of another adult at visitation sessions between the child and abusive parent. Although restrictive, a supervised visitation order does not mean that the abusive parent will only ever receive supervised visits with their child. Nevertheless, before the supervised visit requirement can be lifted, the abusive parent must prove to the court that the child would be safe in his or her care and there is no likelihood of ongoing abuse.
When a judge decides to terminate a parent's custodial rights, including all rights to visit with or otherwise parent his or her child, the decision is permanent and cannot be undone by a parent's subsequent good behavior. A judge will only terminate parental rights in the most extreme circumstances. Some reasons a Utah court would terminate parental rights include sexual abuse of any child, causing a disabling injury of or disfigurement of the child, murder or attempted murder of any child, and intentionally or recklessly causing the death of the child's other parent.
If you have additional questions about the effect of domestic violence on custody rights in Utah, contact a local family law attorney for advice.