If you’ve decided to leave an abusive relationship you are possibly doing the best, and hardest thing you will ever do.
If your abuser is using the broken custody court system against you it is harder still. You, and your children, may need help.
We have assembled some simple advice and links to get you started. Links to experts and organizations, online self help resources, and networking groups.
You may feel alone, but you are part of a community of mothers, and others, working together. Helping each other help our children.
We hope this page will help you get started. You’ll also find many articles on the custody court crisis on our blog.
You are going to meet many obstacles, but you’ll also make many friends fighting to protect their children too. A great place to start meeting people is at the Battered Women’s Custody Conference, and online you can meet custody court advocates in the Stop Abuse Campaign Action Team Facebook Group. A closed group moderated by volunteers.
Keep a copy of any and all police reports, interactions with child protective services, orders of protection, etc.. Document and photograph bruises or injuries you or your children receive.
Save text messages between you and your ex, even if they’re upsetting and your first instinct is to delete them.
Keep a journal documenting harassment, threats, etc, and also people who may have witnessed them.
Save everything. Stay organized.
As horrible as this sounds, there is an high probability that if you report child abuse allegations during a divorce or custody dispute the reports will be taken as evidence of “alienation” and that “alienation” will be used against you much more harshly than actual abuse will be used against your ex.
Always take your child for treatment if they are injured. But if those injuries stem from abuse, consider taking your child to the emergency room. There doctors usually have more training in child abuse injuries; importantly you can’t be accused of “doctor shopping” in court either.
If your child discloses abuse to you, thank them, tell them you believe them and will try to keep them safe. Don’t ask them to elaborate on what they said, and seek immediate legal help. You’ll find a list of resources below.
Get off to a strong start
Very few divorces involve contested custody, so many lawyers without experience in domestic violence cases don’t understand the connection and don’t understand how to proceed.
It is strongly recommended that you find a lawyer with experience in domestic violence, contested custody and possibly child abuse as early in the process as you can. Sometimes your local domestic violence shelter can help, even if you don’t stay in the shelter itself.
Health and Safety.
If you’re a parent in an abusive relationship, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. But you’re not alone, and there are resources to help you.
Your first priority needs to be the physical safety of you and your children, and these organizations can help you secure that.
They have an exhaustive list of hotlines dealing with domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Click to check their resources.
The Hotline® is the only 24/7 center in the nation that has access to service providers and shelters across the U.S. Today, The Hotline continues to grow and explore new avenues of service.
While its focus is specifically on interpersonal and sexual violence in Asian-American community, this site has a wealth of information useful to immigrants and those dealing with an international marriage.
Family Justice Centers are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary co-located service centers that provide services to victims of inter-personal violence including, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder or dependent adult abuse, and human trafficking. Centers focus on reducing the number of times victims tell their story, the number of places victims must go for help, and look to increase access to services and support for victims and their children.
Follow this link and see if there is a family justice center near you.
Winning in court.
You’re going to need help.
As horrible as it sounds, if your partner has abused you, and, or your child, the odds of you being able to protect your child from further abuse and trauma is low. To succeed in the legal system and protect your child you will need specialized help. Here are some resources to help.
BWJP staffs an 800 number to respond to callers from around the country. Advocates who answer these calls are familiar with a wide range of domestic-violence related issues, including criminal prosecution and custody-related matters. Staff access the Language Line for non-English speakers, and TTY callers can use 711.
Based in Silver Spring, Maryland with an office in Baltimore, Maryland. Provide pro bono legal services to protect children “lost in the system” after exposure to family violence, physical/sexual abuse, substance addictions or neglect. Legal services are provided directly by Child Justice attorneys and from the generosity of numerous partners from corporate law firms and private law practices.
For the abuser, the courtroom is the last tool in his toolbox to control and abuse his victims. It is our goal to reverse this trend for the benefit of our children and our nation’s future as a peaceful, non-violent society.
An extensive, free legal library dedicated to contested custody issues. Contains information, research, scholarship, and arguments pertaining to public policy and legal issues, much of it gathered by attorney and academic work groups in different jurisdictions. It is not intended to reflect specifics of actual laws, substantive or procedural, currently in force in any jurisdiction. The information is intended for use by scholars, lawyers, and activists, and is not presented as legal advice.
Can help you find safety and independence from your abuser by providing confidential, free, and low cost legal assistance. The Domestic Violence Legal Connection provides free consultations and pro bono/reduced fee representation in their offices and at domestic violence programs.
Justice for Children works closely with adults trying to protect an abused or neglected child. Individuals seek their assistance and guidance through a custody court system that is often overwhelming, especially due to the emotional and traumatic events that are taking place in a child’s life.
Obtains legal representation for domestic violence survivors in interstate custody cases and provides technical assistance to domestic violence victim advocates and attorneys in these cases.
Provides trained court watchers to observe court proceedings, increase accountability and document procedural mistakes.