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Abusive parents' eligibility for custody and visitation

Massachusetts residents who are divorcing a spouse with a history of violence often have concerns about their children's safety and their own safety. Parents who want to ensure their children's safety may have questions about their ex-spouses' eligibility to receive custody or visitation rights if they have been abusive toward their families in the past.

In child custody proceedings, judges define abuse as an attempt to injure another person, completing an act that injures them or causing them to fear injury. A serious incident of abuse, whether attempted or committed, is one that results in serious injury. Sexual assault is considered a serious incident of abuse.

Massachusetts family court judges prioritize children's welfare above other concerns when they determine whether parents will share custody or whether one parent will receive sole custody. A judge who determines that one parent exhibited a pattern of abusive behavior or committed an act of serious abuse against their children's other parent or their children will probably not grant custody to that parent.

Judges often take special care to keep children and parents safe when determining an abusive parent's visitation rights. A judge may order that all visits with children be supervised, that the abusive parent post bond, that alcohol and drug use cease for 24 hours before a scheduled visit and other measures to ensure children's safety.

Parents divorcing abusive spouses may believe that the safest child custody arrangements involve regulated, supervised contact between their children and their ex-spouses. However, without evidence proving the likelihood of future abuse, the courts may allow violent parents to continue endangering children. Divorce attorneys can help parents secure a protective order or compile evidence showing that their ex-spouses abused them or their children in the past.

Source: Women's Law, "Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?", January 02, 2015

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