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What is the Violence Against Women Act?

In 1994, the United States government passed the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, to establish a national hotline for domestic violence victims. The Act is enforced and recognized in all states, including Missouri, as well as tribal and territorial jurisdictions in the United States. Included within the Act is funding for legal and court fees associated with protection orders and funding for rape kits for victims. In addition, the Act provides for domestic violence crime units and funding for sexual violence and domestic violence training for local enforcement officers.

Domestic violence is a serious problem in Missouri and not only affects women in relationships, but also children in families of domestic violence. With this mind, courts include and consider domestic violence when rendering decisions for child support. The last resort for courts are for a child to have to go into Child Protection Services. As a result, unless a parent is deemed unable to properly protect and keep a child safe, custody will be awarded to the parent who has the child's best interests in mind.

Accordingly, how does domestic violence affect child custody? A court's primary goal in child custody decisions is to make certain that the child's well-being is addressed, and that the child's best interests are met. As a general rule, if there is evidence of violence in a home, or if domestic violence is the cause for a divorce, a decision will be rendered against the abuser.

Victims in domestic violence cases are not always the ones being physically abused. Being present during a domestic abuse incident can emotionally impact a child and may lead to relationship issues for a child down the line, when the child grows older.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Federal Domestic Violence Legislation: The Violence Against Women Act," accessed on March 8, 2016

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