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Abusive parents and child custody

Some parents in Massachusetts who may have been in abusive relationships might be worried about protecting their children from the other parent. Unfortunately, according to the American Psychological Association, courts may dismiss an abuse history when making a decision about custody. Furthermore, in 2012, a report from the American Judges Association said that in around 70 percent of challenged cases, abusive spouses convinced a court that other parent was either unfit or should not get sole custody.

One professor and expert in domestic violence says that abusive parents may try to get control by suing for custody. She refers to this "coercive control" as acts of emotional, financial, mental and other types of abuse. When abusers do get custodial rights, she says, they may use them to manipulate children by telling them they will harm the other parent. Furthermore, men who are abusive to their partners often have a negative effect on their children according to research, but she says this is often downplayed in court.

Custody evaluators may lack adequate training and might even declare a parent with post-traumatic stress disorder from abuse too mentally unstable for custody. A congressman has introduced a bill that requires courts to thoroughly investigate accusations of abuse before moving ahead with a custody case. However, despite bipartisan support, it has remained in committee for two years.

A parent who is concerned about a child's safety might want to talk to an attorney about how to ensure that the other parent does not get visitation rights or only gets supervised visitation. If a parent becomes concerned about a child's well-being after a custody agreement has already been made, it may still be possible to seek a modification. Police and hospital reports documenting abuse may be helpful in both of these cases.

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