Physical or emotional abuse has long-lasting effects for the abuser and the victim. When children are part of a family where abuse takes place, the stakes become even higher. Such abuse, also called "domestic violence," may result in one parent losing custody or having limits placed upon the parent's visitation with his or her child.
Wyoming takes domestic violence very seriously and offers a number of protections and resources to victims of domestic violence. This article provides a general overview of the effect of domestic violence on child custody and visitation rights in Wyoming. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Domestic violence in Wyoming is much more than just physical violence in the home. Instead, it extends to situations where a family member harms or intends to cause physical, sexual or emotional harm to family members through threats. Unfortunately, a large percentage of domestic violence goes unreported. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, you can access the Wyoming Domestic Violence and Support Advocates site for contact information for shelters and support networks in each Wyoming county. Safehouse is another Wyoming organization with numerous resources for victims of abuse.
In situations where there is chronic abuse or you fear future abuse, an order of protection may be appropriate. More information and forms are available at your local courthouse. If a judge grants your order of protection, not only will you and your child be safer, it might also have an impact on your current custody case or a previous custody order.
The primary goal in any child custody case is create a custody arrangement that meets the best interests of the child. Wyoming recognizes two types of custody: legal custody (decision-making authority) and primary custody (where a child resides). The Legal Aid Society of Wyoming has published a comprehensive guide of Child Custody FAQs.
In deciding whether parents should share legal and primary custody, a number of factors such as the child's emotional and physical well being are considered. Wyoming courts have decided that a single episode of domestic violence by one parent against the other parent does not automatically prevent the abusive parent from sharing custody of his or her child. For custody purposes, unreported episodes of domestic violence are also not as significant as reported episodes, which resulted in an order of protection. Ultimately, the overall best interests of a child are considered and domestic violence is just one of many factors weighed in a custody case.
The severity and nature of the abuse make a big difference in whether custody with an abusive parent will be limited. In circumstances where there is a chronic history of abuse or abuse directed at a child, a court may decide that supervised visitation is in the child's best interests. If an order of protection is issued and the court finds that sole custody is in the child's best interests, a visitation order may include one or more of the following limits on visitation:
In the most extreme circumstances, one or both parents may lose their parental rights to visit with or otherwise parent their child. Because parental rights are given great deference, however, a court cannot terminate a parent's rights without clear and convincing evidence showing that continuation of that parent's relationship is not in the best interests of the child. Some circumstances that might result in a complete termination of parental rights include those where an abusive parent sexually assaulted a child, a parent chronically abused a child, a parent is responsible for the death of another one of his or her children, or a parent committed a felony that results in a serious injury to his or her child.
If you have additional questions about the effect of domestic violence on custody and visitation rights in Wyoming,contact a local family law attorney for advice.