How Does Domestic Violence Impact Custody Cases in San Diego?

January 19, 2012

In San Diego County an estimated one out of four children is exposed to domestic violence either as a victim or a witness. According to the San Diego Domestic Violence Council over 500 women and children need to stay in a shelter each day. In a relationship that involves a history of domestic violence, if a partner decides to leave, he or she will have many questions about how that history can impact a child custody case.

Understanding what constitutes domestic violence can be complex. Under California Family Code section 6211, domestic violence is defined as abuse perpetrated against specific categories of family members. Mental health professionals agree that domestic violence is a pattern of behavior characterized by an abusers attempt to control his or her victim through the use of a variety of techniques.

In a case that does not involve domestic violence, the court decides the outcome of a custody case based on the best interest of the child. The court considers a variety of factors such as:

1. The health safety, and welfare of the child
2. Any history of abuse by one parent
3. The nature and amount of contact with both parents
4. Habitual or continual illegal drug or alcohol abuse by either parent

There is a prevalent belief in society that when a couple separates, it is in the best interest of the child to have the most extensive relationship possible with both parents. This assumption is true in a typical separation. However, a separation involving domestic violence is not a typical separation. Family Court judges have many options to consider when deciding which parent, or combination of parents, will make decisions on behalf of a child and take care of that child. If a parent has sole legal custody, he or she has the exclusive right and responsibility to make decisions for the child regarding his or her health, education and welfare. If a parent has sole physical custody, the child will live with that parent subject to the visitation rights of the other. Any joint custody arrangement involves the sharing of these rights and responsibilities.

In California, including San Diego County, there is a rebuttable presumption against granting sole, joint legal, or joint physical custody to a domestic violence perpetrator. The presumption assumes putting a child in the custody of an abuser is not in his or her best interest. The presumption is rebuttable because the court can consider a number of factors to determine whether the parent who has committed domestic violence should share custody. Among those factors is whether the perpetrator has successfully completed a batterer's treatment program. In California, a batterer who is placed on probation for committing domestic violence is required to complete a 52-week intervention program. However, remain cautious when interacting with a domestic violence perpetrator, even after he or she has completed a treatment program.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody. San Diego Family Law Attorney Nancy J. Bickford is the only board-certified divorce lawyer in San Diego who also holds an MBA and a CPA. Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.