Child Custody Evaluation in Cases of Domestic Violence

In high-conflict divorced families, allegations of domestic violence are common and frequently involve child abuse and intimate partner violence. These issues must be taken seriously by a child custody evaluation evaluator in order to ensure the well-being of all family members, including the children.

However, research to date suggests that current practices in custody evaluations fail to adequately consider the impact of domestic violence on victims of abuse and their children. One study, cited in this article, found that the conclusions of a child custody evaluation are likely to be influenced by the personal beliefs, investigative methods, and expertise of the evaluator, with little consideration of the context of the case and the impact of violence on victimized parents and their children.

In the study reported in this article, researchers from NIJ-funded project Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs studied the results of 69 contested custody and visitation evaluations. They analyzed evaluators’ recommendations on custody and visitation arrangements, as well as the final custody and visitation arrangements ordered by the courts. The researchers found that evaluators had wide-ranging views about what constituted domestic violence and the relevance of a person’s history of abuse to parenting capacity. The authors also found that evaluators’ views were influenced by their personal characteristics and beliefs, such as their own experiences with violence in their own relationships, their knowledge of the underlying dynamics of domestic violence, and their attitudes toward the causes of abuse and about how to assess a person’s risk for future violence.

The evaluators’ recommendations were also affected by the type of psychological test used, the evaluator’s own experience with a specific psychological disorder (e.g., anxiety), and the evaluator’s personal and professional opinions of what constitutes “child abuse.” The researchers recommend that all forensic evaluators be screened for knowledge of domestic violence and required to take training on the impact of domestic violence and its risk factors on children and victims of abuse.

The researchers also recommend that when a child custody evaluation involves a parent who has experienced domestic violence, the evaluator should consider whether a supervised visitation arrangement may be safer for the parent than a non-supervised arrangement and, if so, should make that recommendation in the report. The evaluator should also carefully consider the opinions of the children, if they are developmentally mature enough to express them, as to what kind of household they prefer to live in and with whom. This is important because, according to this research, the opinions of children are highly valued in decisions regarding custody and visitation. Unauthorized dissemination or publication of custody evaluation reports and recommendations is a violation of state law and may result in prosecution for contempt of court. The authors thank the forensic evaluators who participated in this study and provided invaluable information.

It is important to document any type of abuse, both before and during a divorce. This will ensure that the court has all the necessary information when deciding what is fair. For those in need of legal advice, a Miami divorce & family attorney is an excellent source of information. The attorney can assist the client with determining the value of their assets and help them secure the amount they need from the court. Additionally, the attorney can help with the complicated legal processes such as filing for a summary divorce, which can expedite the entire process.