As the victim of domestic violence, you would most likely do anything to protect your kids from your spouse and the negative effects of your relationship. It can be a shock, therefore, to learn that the courts in California could take custody away from you. This could be your reality, however, if you allow certain circumstances to negatively impact your children. It is important to work with a family law attorney as the survivor of domestic violence if you fear for your right to child custody. A lawyer can help you combat allegations against you from your ex-spouse during a custody case and keep you on track to receive full or primary custody.
Suffering Severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common affliction survivors of domestic abuse or violence suffer. PTSD can arise after any traumatic or life-threatening event a victim survives, from going to war to experiencing sexual assault. The symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, behavioral changes, aggression, mood swings, numbness and panic attacks.
Although you should never feel ashamed of having PTSD from domestic violence, you should recognize its signs and seek treatment right away. Without treatments such as medications and/or therapy, your PTSD could escalate to a level of severity that interferes with your ability to care for children. If PTSD leads to lashing out against your kids, for example, your spouse could use this against you in a fight for child custody.
Exhibiting Signs of a Mental Health Disorder
PTSD is unfortunately not the only form of mental harm you could suffer as a domestic violence victim. Your abusive relationship could lead to other lasting mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. If these disorders are disabling or crippling enough to interfere with your ability to care for your children, a judge could rule against you in a custody decision. The solution is to come to terms with your mental health issues and seek treatment as soon as possible. Proof that you are actively receiving treatment for domestic-violence related mental health disorders can be enough to sway a judge in your favor.
Developing a Substance Use Disorder
As a domestic violence victim dealing with lasting effects such as PTSD, depression or anxiety, you may end up with a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. Domestic abuse survivors commonly make the mistake of turning to alcohol or illicit drugs such as black market painkillers or heroin to cope with their feelings or struggles. Developing a substance use disorder, however, could be detrimental to your custody case. Proof of an addiction or alcohol abuse could result in the loss of custody of your kids.
Finding an Equally Abusive Spouse
A judge will carefully examine what a child’s home life will look like before making custody decisions. This includes looking into who the custodial parent may be bringing around the kids, such as a new spouse. If you leave your abusive spouse only to find someone who is equally dangerous, a judge may not grant you custody of your kids. Any new spouse right away – even one who is not violent or abusive – could give a judge pause before granting you custody. Try to hold off on letting someone meet your kids or move in with you during a pending divorce case.
Returning to the Abusive Spouse
If a judge grants you custody, only to find out that you returned to your abusive spouse weeks or months later, you both could lose custody of your children. The judge will already be aware of the domestic violence situation based on evidence, testimony and police reports from your divorce case or custody battle. Discovering that you have moved the kids back in with your violent spouse could be enough for the judge to grant custody to a family member instead if this is in the children’s best interests. The kids could also go into the foster care system if no suitable family member is available.