Are you safe? If you are experiencing domestic violence and you reside in Bethesda or elsewhere in Montgomery County, there are resources for immediate assistance. If this is an emergency call 911 or 240-773-5050.
Domestic violence causes deep and lasting trauma to the victim and the rest of the family. When abuse is the reason for a divorce, under Maryland law, there is a presumption that the abuser should not have custody of the children, and the burden is on the abuser to show why custody or visitation should be allowed. However, the court can award supervised visitation to an abuser if it can be arranged in a way that protects the child and the other parent if they are the victim of abuse. If domestic violence is present in your relationship, here are some important considerations when approaching the issue of custody.
What Qualifies as Domestic Violence in Maryland?
The term “abuse” is used in many ways, and it is essential to understand the legal requirements to establish that a person has committed abuse that qualifies as domestic violence under Maryland law. The relevant statute defines abuse as:
(i) an act that causes serious bodily harm;
(ii) an act that places a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm;
(iii) assault in any degree;
(iv) rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree;
(v) false imprisonment;
(vi) stalking; or
(vii) revenge porn.
In instances where a spouse (or unmarried parent) can show this abuse, the presumption is that the abuser is not fit to have custody.
Taking Steps to Protect Against Abuse Helps With Custody Issues
It’s not enough to claim abuse in a custody proceeding. A parent must show that the abuse has occurred or is an ongoing issue. The most effective way to do this is to obtain a protective order against the abuser. This process involves appearing in court, providing evidence of abuse, and obtaining an order limiting the abuser’s access to the victim and other household members (i.e., the children). When the time comes for a temporary or long-term custody decision, the court can use the evidence of and in the protective order to find that domestic violence is an issue and award custody accordingly. The protective order gives the court a basis to decide custody and provides the victim with additional resources to protect themselves from the abuser.
Helping Your Children Feel Safe
With the lasting trauma of abuse in the household, it can be difficult for a child to continue their relationship with the abusive parent even when that parent has shown that they have taken steps to improve their behavior through court-ordered therapy or other efforts. The child may still love their parent but feel torn about the conflict between the feeling and the history of the abusive behavior. It is important to let your child explore these feelings with the help of counseling. To locate help for your child, you can talk to your family law attorney, or Montgomery County offers support through the Abused Persons Program 24-Hour Crisis Services – 240-777-4000.