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How abusive parents may try to get custody of children

Some Arizona parents might be concerned during a divorce about the other parent having access to their children if that parent has been abusive. Courts generally encourage children to spend time with both parents, and in some cases, allegations of abuse might not be believed or adequately investigated.

It is not uncommon for people who have been abusive spouses, parents or both to try to control the situation by suing for custody. The phrase "coercive control" refers to tactics that may include financial, mental, emotional and legal abuse as well as stalking. Abusive parents might try to manipulate the child by telling lies about or even threatening the other parent or the child's stepparent. According to the American Psychological Association, courts may not consider a history of abuse when awarding custody. The American Judges Association concluded in a 2012 study that in more than two-thirds of challenged cases, abusive parents convinced a court that the other parent should not get sole custody or was unfit. One domestic violence expert says courts downplay the dangers to children of a parent who is abusive toward the other parent.

Another issue is that custody evaluators may have no experience with domestic abuse. In Congress, a bill that would require family courts to independently investigate and resolve abuse claims before proceeding has been languishing in committee for two years.

Courts are supposed to make decisions that are in the best interests of a child and take whatever steps are necessary to keep a child safe. A parent who is concerned about issues such as abuse, neglect or abduction may want to discuss strategies for documenting the situation with an attorney. An abusive parent may only be allowed supervised visitation or might be cut off from seeing the children altogether, but the other parent may have to fight for sole physical custody in court.

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