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How Domestic Violence Victims Sometimes Lose Child Custody



sad woman

Today, October 10, is Mental Health Awareness Day.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.   These two subjects often intersect; sometimes with disastrous results. Let’s explore.

In a domestic abuse situation, the physical abuse is frequently accompanied by emotional abuse.  To prevent the victim from reporting the abuse, the abuser will often create an environment where the victim is financially and emotionally dependent upon the aggressor.  We explored and described these problems in a previous blog, “why don’t they just leave?” 

A 2002 study show that victims of Intimate Partner Violence are at an increased risk of current poor health, depressive symptoms, substance abuse, developing a chronic disease, chronic mental illness and injury.

After years of suffering emotional and physical abuse, the abuse will take its toll on the victim’s mental and physical health.  Left untreated for many years, the abuse victim’s depression becomes significant, and will affect other areas of life, such as their ability to care for the children.

What’s worse is that in a 2019 report, a British study showed that when women visited their general practitioner and disclosed domestic violence, the  doctor was much more likely to record mental illness. The study showed that only .5% of the women’s records showed a note of domestic violence.

When a domestic violence victim can flee the abusive household, the odds are stacked against her[1]. First, where does she go with her children? Second, how will she pay for a competent attorney?  The abuser controlled the money and will use it to hire an attorney to fight for custody. 

Many victims of domestic violence do not report the violence, or they excuse the injuries claiming an accident. Those records will create an obstacle for the victim when the judge reviews the child’s best interests.  The abuser, on the other hand, may be able to show that mom was unable to bring the children to school on time due to her depression.  He will show her inability to maintain a job (either because he asked her to quit her job or her depression prevented her from maintaining her employment).  

Because our mental health affects so many facets of life, a victim’s damaged mental health creates a ripple effect into many areas of her ability to parent. 

Furthermore, the victim has not honed her skills to advocate for herself, and during a custody battle, well, it’s a battle.   Domestic violence abusers often have narcissistic tendencies and tend to battle for the sake of winning.

Even so, help is available.  Most counties have free resources, such as the YWCA, and shelters, such as Safe Haven Ministries.   Additionally, victims may qualify for a free attorney from Legal Aid of Western Michigan

Additionally, court rules allow our attorneys to request reimbursement of attorney fees when one parent is unable to pay for the attorney fees, and the other parent can pay. 

If you are a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, start the process with making some calls.  Knowledge is power and allows you to make informed and wise decisions.  Please call the attorneys at Kraayeveld Law to start the process or point you in the right direction:  (616) 285-0808.


[1] Statistically, more women than men are victims of domestic violence and this article is written with that in mind.  However, we have represented many men as well who were victims of domestic violence and we acknowledge that due to prejudices, they often suffer more significantly.