Abuse can result in visible bruises or invisible emotional scars - whether seen or unseen, the frightening impact of abuse is the same and it has long-term consequences for your family. Such emotional or physical abuse, also called "domestic violence," can affect which parent receives custody of a child. In the most extreme cases, chronic domestic violence may result in a parent losing certain visitation rights with his or her child. Washington offers a number of resources and protections to victims of domestic violence and their children.
This article provides a general overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in Washington. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
In a child custody case, a judge's goal is to determine what kind of living and visitation arrangement would best serve a child's physical and emotional needs. Washington distinguishes physical custody (where a child resides) from legal custody (decision-making power on behalf of child).
Custody cases in Washington require parents to submit proposed parenting plans to the court that the judge will accept if the plan is in the child's best interests. A parent's history of chronic domestic violence or an ongoing domestic violence protection order case may weigh against that parent receiving physical custody of his or her child. Learn more about Child Custody in Washington.
Domestic violence includes much more than simply physical violence or abuse. It also extends to sexual assault and emotional abuse such as threats to assault or physically harm a spouse, partner or child.
Sadly, a large percentage of domestic violence incidents go unreported. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, seek help through the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence with shelter information and other resources. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
If you are involved in a situation where there has been recent abuse or you fear future abuse by a current or former spouse or partner, a domestic violence protection order may be necessary. Learn more about domestic violence protection orders on Washington's Court website and access the Domestic Violence Protection Order form.
A domestic violence protection order will be granted if the judge determines that domestic violence has occurred in the past and is likely to occur in the future unless protections are put in place. If the judge grants your domestic violence protection order, not only will you and your child be safer, the order will likely impact the outcome of an ongoing custody case or provide grounds to modify a previous child custody order.
In Washington, the law does not automatically preclude a previously abusive parent from having custody of his or her child. Instead, domestic violence is one of just many factors considered by the court in awarding custody. Thus, a single episode of unreported domestic violence will likely not be as significant as several convictions of domestic violence. A Washington parent with a history of repeated abuse against his or her child or spouse may have restrictions or limits placed upon his or her custody and visitation rights. Some of those restrictions may include supervised visitation or a termination of parental rights in the most extreme circumstances.
Supervised visitation requires visitation between the parent and child to take place in the presence of another designated adult. Although supervised visitation puts restrictions on a parent's visitation rights, this does not mean that the abusive parent will only ever receive supervised visits with his or her child. Nevertheless, before a supervised visitation requirement would be lifted, an abusive parent would have to prove that there is no risk of ongoing or future abuse and normal, unsupervised visitation would be in the child's best interests.
A parent's right to visit with and otherwise parent his or her child could be terminated in cases of extreme abuse or neglect. A Washington court will not terminate a parent's rights unless there is evidence that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that continuing the parent's relationship is not in the child's best interests. Some circumstances that might result in a termination of a parent's rights rights include felony assault of the child, chronic abuse of the child, or conviction of sexual abuse of a child. Once parental rights are terminated, that parent cannot seek to have their rights reinstated – a termination of rights is permanent.
If you have additional questions about the effect of domestic violence on custody rights in Washington, contact a local family law attorney for advice.