In Divorce Cases, Domestic Abuse Allegations Can Affect Child Custody and Visitation

Domestic AbuseIf you are considering a divorce, allegations of domestic abuse may affect certain parts of your divorce, such as child custody. Domestic abuse in Georgia is defined as follows: when a person exerts power and control over another person, whether physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological and occurs among any of the following:

  • Parents and children
  • Current spouses
  • Past spouses
  • Step-parent and step-child
  • Foster parents and foster children
  • Cohabitating persons or those who formerly lived together

In Georgia, domestic abuse (or violence) involves simple or aggravated assault, stalking, property damage, unlawful restraint, and criminal trespassing. The law recognizes it as a ground for filing a divorce petition and falls under “cruel treatment,” involving” willful infliction” of physical or mental pain that reasonably causes the victim’s concern of “danger to life, limb, or health:” [O.C.G.A. §§ 19-3-1 & 19-5-3].

If you have children and your spouse is a violent abuser, the judge can issue temporary protective orders (TPO) to keep everyone safe at all times.

Domestic Abuse in Georgia: How Allegations Affect Divorce Negotiations

Though the impact of domestic abuse is not usually significant when it comes to property division or alimony, family courts will always consider domestic violence allegations before granting custody and visitation rights to a parent.

Georgia law requires parents to disclose all past and present domestic violence-related incidents. Courts will always consider an abusive parent’s history, even if it did not happen in the current household or does not involve the child in question.

A judge may award child custody or visitation to an abusive parent only if he is sure that doing so will uphold the safety of the child and abused parent. To ensure the child and parent’s safety, a judge may order certain safety measures such as:

  • Ensuring a custody exchange only occurs in a public place with potential safety reinforcements, such as at a police station
  • Forbidding the child from staying overnight at the abusive parent’s house
  • Forbidding the abusive parent from possessing alcohol or drugs during or before visitation (for at least 24 hours prior)
  • Withholding any information that may put the abused parent’s or child’s safety in question, such as address or school (if the child changed schools)

The judge may also order any other measures he believes will ensure the safety of anyone involved.

Family court judges can also order their own investigations with Georgia Child Protective Services or law enforcement when any person claims the presence of any other actions that may harm children.

Domestic Abuse in Georgia: Supervised Visitation and Termination of Parental Legal Rights

When a judge believes a parent has committed acts of domestic violence, he can order that trained supervisors or an agency be present at all times during visitation between the child and abusive parent. If a judge orders supervised visitation, the judge will often require the abuser to pay any associated fees.

Restrictions on those visits could prevent the abusive parent from engaging in any activities could pose a threat to the safety of the child or abused parent, such as alcohol use.

In extreme cases, Georgia courts can consider terminating the abusive parent’s rights, but only when it is in the best interests of the child and if the judge has irrefutable evidence of severe abuse or that person’s inability to be a parent.

If domestic violence plays a part in your pending divorce, contact the Gwinnett County contested divorce attorneys at the Ward Law Firm in Duluth at 770-383-1973 or contact us online to schedule your REAL Case Analysis.