Child custody battles are never easy but adding domestic violence issues to the mix certainly complicates matters. If a domestic violence case is clouding your efforts to reach a custody plan that is best for your kids, this article may help answer your questions and prepare you for challenges that frequently arise in situations like yours.
Does a domestic violence charge ruin my chances of getting custody of my kids?
No. Fortunately, in Washington State, a domestic violence conviction on your record does not automatically preclude you from having custody of your children.
A court awarding custody (often called “residential time” in Washington law) will consider not just past instances of domestic violence, but also many other factors: your employment, your living situation, other children already in the home, the schooling situation, where the children in question are already living, etc. A history that includes domestic violence will certainly be a factor considered, but it will not necessarily be the determining factor.
While it is impossible to know what the judge will decide in any particular case, judges usually view less-serious, one-time, and unreported instances of domestic violence as a lower barrier to custody than a string of domestic violence convictions.
However, even a parent in Washington State with several episodes of domestic violence has a good chance of being allowed some residential time. The court may place restrictions or limits on custody or visitation for parents in this situation, such as supervised visitation.
How does supervised visitation work?
If the court orders supervised visitation in Washington, this means that your visits with your children must take place under the supervision of a designated adult. This arrangement is usually not permanent. Supervised visitation orders can be lifted and custody plans modified if you are able to prove to the court that there is no risk of future abuse. That visitation without supervision is in your child’s best interest.
When can parental rights be terminated?
Courts terminate parental rights only in the most serious, extreme cases of child abuse or neglect. Such instances might include felony or ongoing abuse of the child, including sexual abuse. In termination cases, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt (the same high evidentiary standard as in criminal cases) that the child’s best interests demand a total termination of the abusive parent’s rights. Parents are given many opportunities to improve their parenting before the State seeks to terminate their parental rights.
Termination is a very serious outcome – once a parent’s rights have been terminated, they can never be reinstated. If your parental rights are the subject of a termination proceeding, it is therefore critical to get experienced, skilled, and rigorous representation by an attorney.