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How does domestic violence affect child custody in Massachusetts?

On Behalf of | Oct 2, 2020 | Domestic Violence Defense |

If your former partner has filed a domestic violence accusation against you, it can impact almost every aspect of your life. You may have the most concerns about how these charges will affect your ability to seek child custody. 

Learn how Massachusetts courts handle child custody cases involving domestic violence. 

Understand the definition of domestic violence

Massachusetts courts will consider a parent abusive if he or she commits domestic violence more than once or commits an act of serious violence. For the purposes of custody, the law defines domestic violence as forcing another person to have sexual contact, threatening another person with bodily harm, or injuring or attempting to injure another person. 

Follow protection order requirements

If your former partner accused you of domestic violence, he or she may have also applied for an order of protection (restraining order). The court will require you to attend a hearing within 10 days. You have the right to legal representation and can defend yourself against the accusations. Abide by the terms of the restraining order during that 10-day period and indefinitely if the judge decides to extend the order. Failure to do so can damage your custody standing and result in further legal action. 

Make the case for visitation

If the court convicts you of abuse and upholds the protective order, the state court presumes that you should not have child custody. However, you have the chance to prove that visitation or partial custody serves your child’s best interests. 

Sometimes, Massachusetts will grant restricted visitation. This could include visitation only at a visitation center or visitation supervised by a third party. The court can order you to abstain from substance use for 24 hours before and during visitation. The court may limit you only to daytime visitation or establish other conditions designed to protect your child while preserving the parental relationship for his or her sake. 

Defending yourself against abuse allegations is the first step toward gaining child custody or visitation. Massachusetts courts will terminate parental rights only in rare cases involving serious harm to the child, ongoing and repetitive abuse of the child, or murder or attempted murder of the other parent.