If Your Spouse Has A History Of Domestic Violence Do You Have To Share Custody?

How domestic violence affects Florida’s best interest of the child approach to shared parental responsibility and time-sharing


Abuse that takes place within the family is a critical challenge when it comes to divorce and child custody cases, and the state of Florida legally approaches such violence with the care it needs for such a serious problem. Divorce and child custody cases are difficult even when families are not dealing with a history of domestic violence but raising the concern of abuse adds an even more challenging level to these already difficult cases. How your former spouse’s prior domestic violence issues will affect your custody case will vary based on the particular factors involved in their prior cases. If you are involved in a divorce or child custody case that has the issue of prior domestic violence concerns being raised, you need the help of a skilled family law attorney who has worked on cases with these challenging circumstances before.

When does a domestic violence issue a factor in child custody cases?


Domestic violence is considered abuse that has occurred between two or more people who are related, usually significant others, resulting in physical and emotional damage, and consists of all forms of violence including physical abuse, a threat of abuse, and sex offenses. Additionally, domestic violence also includes any acts of violence committed against a child. When there are issues of domestic abuse within the family, all family members are affected, and can cause children to suffer with lifelong psychological and emotional trauma if they have witnessed the abuse.

One factor that will be considered when looking at prior domestic violence charges is the number of instances and how much time has passed since they occurred. While no act of domestic violence is ever acceptable, your case will likely be handled very differently if there was just one instance of violence, especially if a significant amount of time has passed since it occurred. But if there are multiple occurrences of domestic abuse, or if there has been a recent incident, this will likely have a significant impact on your divorce and child custody case. With that being said, it is the job of the courts to protect children and to determine a child custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child, not of the parents, and because of this courts will usually consider any evidence of domestic violence when determining a child custody arrangement, even if no formal charges or injunctions have ever been filed, and even one instance of domestic violence can shift the burden of proof onto the aggressor to show their child’s best interest would not be in detriment by placing the child with them.

When a court is considering a child custody arrangement, regardless of whether it is a legal or physical custody issue, the state of Florid has multiple factors they will take into consideration to determine the arrangement that is in the child’s best interest. If there is no evidence of abuse or other extenuating circumstances, Florida courts generally assume it is in the child’s best interest for both parents to have shared parental responsibility. Because the court is responsible for determining an arrangement that is in the best interest of the child and that will protect the child from potential harm, a history of domestic abuse could result in the judge issuing an order of protection, ordering supervised visitations, and in more severe cases of abuse the complete termination of a parent’s rights.

Supervised Visitation


Florida family law statutes require judges and courts to protect the best interest of a child and to take necessary action to protect a child from potential harm and danger, whether the potential harm could be physical or psychological. However, Florida courts also recognize the importance of both parents being actively involved in a child’s life whenever possible. Because of this, one way the court often tries to balance the risk of harm and danger to the child and the parent’s right to have a meaningful relationship with their child is by ordering all visitations be supervised either at a visitation center or by a third person agreed on between the parties. A judge can order that the supervised visitations occur for a specified period of time or until certain conditions have been met under which the requirement of supervision can be removed, or the judge can order that the supervised visitations remain permanent unless the parent requiring supervision is able to prove to the judge that standard, non-supervised visitations are both acceptable and in the best interest of the child at a later point.

Termination of parental rights


Because termination of parental rights is a permanent resolution and parental rights cannot be reestablished at a later point once they have been terminated, it is an option that is considered carefully and is used only in the most serious cases of abuse or neglect. These cases are extremely rare, but may occur when the aggressive parent:

  • Has a history as a violent career criminal
  • Has been convicted and is registered as a sexual predator
  • Has committed a sexual batter that is a first-degree felony
  • Has severely abused a child in a manner that resulted in bodily injury to the child
  • Has sexually abused or committed aggravated child abuse against the child
  • Has been convicted of either first- or second- degree murder
  • Hired someone or conspired with someone else to murder the other parent or another child

Florida courts recognize the impact losing a parent will have on a child’s life, so they will only agree to terminate a parent’s rights when the abuse or neglect is so severe that it presents a risk of danger to the child’s safety or well-being if any relationship between the parent and child is continued than the risk of the psychological and emotional harm of losing the parent would be.

Experienced Florida family law attorney prepared to protect your rights and interests


If you or someone you love is involved in a child custody dispute with an ex-spouse and there are prior domestic violence concerns being raised, contact the compassionate and experienced lawyer, Michael C. McGinn, P.A. for your FREE initial consultation. Mr. McGinn has a wealth of experience handling Florida family law cases and is prepared to protect and maximize your legal rights and interests. Call us at 813-374-0353. Mr. McGinn is licensed in all Florida courts; he frequently handles family law cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco, and Polk Counties, and has occasionally handled cases outside of the immediate Tampa Bay Area as well.