The effect of evidence of abuse on child custody

Most Massachusetts couples who have decided to obtain a divorce wonder how the court will resolve the complex question of physical custody. The court will consider a variety of factors, such as the relative incomes of the parents, the relationship between the parents and the children, and the stability of relationships before and after the divorce. A significant factor is whether one parent is able to provide a better home environment for the child. Another factor may be considered a nuclear weapon of sorts: evidence of abuse.

Massachusetts judges are required to consider evidence of abuse as defined in the statutes governing divorce. “Abuse” means an attempt by one parent toward the other parent or a child to cause bodily injury or placing another person in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury. A serious incident of abuse includes these definitions and adds a third: causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations.

If the court finds that a pattern of abuse according to these definitions is supported by a preponderance of the evidence, a rebuttable presumption is created to the effect that the children’s best interests will not be served by physical or shared physical custody with the abusive parent. The statute provides several alternatives, including supervised visitation and requiring the abusive parent to attend appropriate classes.

Actual or attempted abuse is a serious violation of state law, and any credible evidence will often sway the judge’s decisions on several issues in the divorce. Abuse is a serious issue, so those who are pursuing a divorce where abuse is an issue will want to seek the help they need to stay safe and protect their rights and the best interests of their child.

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