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How domestic violence affects a court's decision on child custody

It is an unfortunate reality in the United States that domestic violence still rears its head at an alarming rate. It seems every day we hear of another professional athlete or celebrity involved in a domestic violence incident. Statistics state that as many as 10 million American children are exposed to domestic violence every year.

You may have heard the saying, "protecting the best interests of the child" before, but what exactly does it mean and how is it used? It is the primary objective and ultimate decision-making philosophy in family courts when awarding child custody. When divorcing couples cannot come up with a mutually agreed upon decision regarding child custody, the court will look into many aspects of a child's life and the relationship he or she has with parents to make a decision based on the "best interests" principle. A history, or even one incident, of domestic violence may play a large role in the decision.

It is important to understand that domestic violence is not limited to physical altercations. Emotional, economical (such as a spouse controlling a family's finances or using his or her wages as leverage), psychological, stalking, and mere threats of violence are all grounds for filing a domestic violence report.

Unfortunately, a mere 25 percent of physical assaults against women are reported each year to authorities. To protect yourself and your children, it is crucial to address any domestic violence incident immediately and to take the incident seriously. Often, the only solution to protecting oneself in a violent relationship is to end the relationship. Having a record of domestic violence incidents may play an important role in a court's child custody decision.

Source: findlaw.com, "What is Domestic Violence?," Accessed on Aug. 10, 2015

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Joseph J. Porzenski
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