Protecting children from abuse in a shared custody scenario

Most parents who break up or divorce in Washington share custody with one another. They then have to find a way to share parental rights and responsibilities, including time with the children and authority to make decisions on their behalf.

Some families set their own terms, and others take their custody issues to family court. Family law judges in Washington usually want to do what is best for the children, which often means giving both parents as much time with the children as possible. However, not all parents are capable of meeting the needs of their children in a consistent and appropriate manner.

Some adults become negligent and do not actively parent when they have their children. Other parents become verbally, emotionally or physically abusive. Even someone who has previously been a decent parent could become abusive in a shared custody scenario where they have no on-demand help for meeting the children’s needs.

How can someone who believes that their co-parent has abused their children protect them from continued abuse?

Custody modifications could help

There is generally an expectation that parents do everything in their power to follow an existing custody order. Still, they can sometimes make changes to a custody order if such changes are necessary for the family. Parents might agree with one another to alter the division of parenting time or other custody terms. If they do not agree, then one parent can request a hearing in front of the courts. Situations involving child abuse may warrant modifications.

A custody order putting the children in a dangerous or volatile situation does not serve their best interests. Despite what people might assume, the parent requesting the modification generally needs evidence supporting their claims that something about the situation puts their children at risk. The courts are unlikely to act based solely on the unsubstantiated claims of one parent against the other.

Police reports and hospital records can be very compelling evidence when one parent needs to modify a custody order because of child abuse or domestic violence. Photographs of injuries, written records of abusive conduct and witness statements could also help establish that one parent has mistreated the children.

The more documentation a parent gathers related to child abuse, the better their chances of prevailing in a contested custody modification request. Intervening to protect children from abuse in a co-parenting arrangement requires diligence and patience – and, oftentimes, legal guidance – if a parent hopes to optimize their chances of success.

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