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Domestic Violence and Custody Litigation - The Need for Statutory Reform

NCJ Number
Hofstra Law Review Volume: 13 Issue: 2 Dated: (Winter 1985) Pages: 407-441
L R Keenan
Date Published
35 pages
This article discusses the connection between spouse abuse and child custody issues, focusing on the need for legislation that mandates spouse abuse as an aggravating factor in considering child custody cases.
Spouse abuse is an indirect cause of child abuse, since the victimized parent is rendered less able to perform the parenting needed by a child. Additionally, children exposed to spousal violence suffer emotional harm and an increased risk of physical harm. Spousal violence is likely to continue even after separation and divorce, requiring that the court take steps to protect the mother and child from continued physical abuse. The Missouri Supreme Court recognized the connection between spouse abuse and custody litigation when it ruled in Williams v. Williams (1982) that orders relating to custody and support may be necessary as part of the effort to aid domestic violence victims. This decision upheld the constitutionality of a Missouri law that provides for ex-parte orders of protection for spouse-abuse victims, including temporary child custody and support provisions. Custody statutes and determinations should be structured to protect women and children from further harm from batterers even though it may mean restricting the batterer's parental contact with the child. Custody statutes that mandate consideration of evidence of spousal violence may also have a deterrent effect on domestic assault. 268 footnotes.