A special California law governs child custody decisions for families with a history of domestic violence. 

This law may apply if you have experienced physical harm or feel threatened by written or spoken abuse. 

How may domestic violence affect custody?

Domestic violence convictions or findings of abuse may affect child custody decisions. If your co-parent has engaged in acts of domestic violence at some time during the prior five years, you may challenge that parent’s request for custody. You may base this challenge on an abuser’s conviction for domestic violence against you or other loved ones. These other loved ones may include your children or their siblings, your parent or your current spouse or significant other. Even without a conviction, a court’s finding of domestic violence against you or your family members may affect the abuser’s custody rights. 

What custody rules may apply if a family has experienced abuse?

A special law applies to custody cases where domestic violence has occurred. If this law applies, a judge may award custody to the abuser only in certain circumstances. 

A judge must believe that it is in the child’s best interest to allow the perpetrator to have custody. In addition, a judge must consider other circumstances: 

  • Has the abuser committed other acts of domestic violence? 
  • Has the abuser fully complied with any restraining order? 
  • Has the abuser completed all courses required by a court, including a batterer intervention program, alcohol/drug program or parenting class? 
  • If applicable, has the person complied with all probation or parole conditions? 

The judge must evaluate each of these factors independently. A judge may not rely on the findings of family court services staff or a child custody evaluator. 

Whether or not this special law applies to your custody case, you may provide the court with domestic violence information that you want taken into account in the custody decision.