If you are a parent who has decided to leave an abusive relationship, you are possibly doing the best, hardest thing you will ever do. This is hard for anyone, but if your abuser uses the broken custody court system against you it will become much harder. You may need custody court help.
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.
Be careful with reporting abuse
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, you may want to take your child to the emergency room, where doctors are likely to have more training in child abuse injuries and where you cannot be accused of “doctor shopping”. 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
Most divorces don’t involve contested custody, and many lawyers without experience in domestic violence cases don’t understand the connection and don’t understand how to proceed. Below you will find a list of resources, including ones that will help you find DV shelters and legal resources. 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.
Be Safe. Be Successful. Be Supported.
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 the following resources will help you secure that.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
http://www.ncadv.org/resources an exhaustive list of hotlines dealing with domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault.
American Domestic Violence Crisis Line
Phone: (866) 879-6636
URL: http://www.866uswomen.org Hotlines to help you find the resources to protect you and your children in your community
Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
Phone: (415) 568-3315
URL: http://www.apiidv.org/ 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.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Phone: (800) 799-7233
URL: http://www.ndvh.org This national hotline will connect you with shelters and safe houses near you.
Family Justice Center Alliance
www.familyjusticecenter.org Family justice centers have advantages over traditional shelters, as they typically have legal resources, child abuse experts, and law enforcement all located together, as a sort of “one stop shopping” model. Follow this link and see if there is a family justice center near you.
victimconnect.org/get-help/connect-directory/ This site allows you to connect with a wide variety of resources, including shelters and legal resources.
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.
Battered Women’s Justice Project
Phone: (612) 824-8768 or (800) 903-0111, ext 1
http://www.bwjp.org/services/legal-advocacy-for-victims.html Speak with a domestic violence and custody expert about your case.
www.child-justice.org Provides free legal services for qualifying, non-abusive parents when the case involves child abuse
Custody Prep for Moms
URL: http://www.custodyprepformoms.org/ A library of reference material for mothers preparing their custody cases. It also has links to support groups, and inspirational stories of mothers who succeeded.
Justice for Children
The Legal Project
Phone: (518) 435-1770
http://www.legalproject.org/index.php?page=112 Provides pro bono and reduced fee legal assistance for domestic violence victims
The Liz Library (Elizabeth J. Kates)
URL: http://www.thelizlibrary.org/ An extensive, free legal library dedicated to contested custody issues.
Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women
http://www.lrcvaw.org/about.html Provides legal network and legal resources, focusing on interstate custody cases
National Family Court Watch Project
URL: http://www.nationalfamilycourtwatchproject.org Provides trained court watchers to observe court proceedings, and increase accountability and document procedural mistakes.
URL: http://www.margaretdore.com A lawyer experienced with these types of cases
URL: http://www.michaellesher.com A lawyer experienced with these types of cases
URL: http://www.divorcecal.com A lawyer experienced with these types of cases
URL: http://www.zorza.net A lawyer experienced with these types of cases
URL: http://www.barrygoldstein.net A retired lawyer and practicing expert witness for child custody cases involving domestic violence.
Contested custody cases, that will likely involve interruption in your relationship with your children, are agonizing, exhausting, and very isolating. But there are places you and your children can find support.
California Protective Parents Association
Phone: (866) 874.9815
URL: http://www.protectiveparents.com This site contains some legal resources that are specific to California, but support resources that are for anyone.
Children Against Court Appointed Child Abuse
URL: http://www.ca3cacaca.blogspot.com/ This site is specifically designed for adult children who survived a harmful outcome case, but parents going through their own cases will be believed and will be able to relate.
Courageous Kids Network
URL: http://www.courageouskids.net This is specifically geared for minor children who are not being protected by the court system.