One reason that marriages come to an end is abusive or dangerous behavior by one spouse. Many couples have several happy years before abuse becomes a factor. By that point, the other person may not feel like he or she can leave. This is particularly true if there are minor children. A spouse being physically or emotionally abused may worry about trying to leave and the potential impact on the kids.
For those considering leaving an abusive relationship, there are resources and support systems available to help. However, in order to protect yourself and your children from ongoing abuse during and after a divorce, you should take steps as soon as possible to document the abuse in your household. Otherwise, you may end up sharing custody with someone who mistreats you and your children.
Documentation can help prove your claims are more than allegations
Depending on the situation in your home, there are many ways in which documentation of the abuse is possible. For example, if neighbors have repeatedly called police over loud fights or if you have had to seek medical care for injuries from abuse, there is already an official paper trail to help substantiate your claims. If there are no existing official records, you do have other options.
If you have kept a journal or diary of assaults or mistreatment, that can help build your case. So can pictures of any injuries you or the children sustained that did not require medical intervention, or saved emails, voicemails or other messages that include a threat against you or the children. Testimony from third party witnesses or images from your home security system can all help prove that your claims of abuse come from real experiences.
Typically, the courts in California prefer shared custody
In most divorces, the California courts seek to create a shared parenting plan that keeps both parents actively involved in the lives of the children. In order to obtain sole custody of the children to keep them out of a dangerous environment, you will need to prove to the courts that your children were victims of or frequent witnesses to abuse.
If the courts determine that your case involves domestic violence, that usually precludes your spouse from receiving shared or sole custody, but that isn't always the case. In some situations, the courts could award an abusive parent visitation rights or even custody privileges after the divorce. Informing yourself about your rights and options is the best way to protect yourself and your children when you are in the planning stages of leaving an abusive marriage.
In situations with a direct and immediate risk to you or your children, the courts may issue and order a domestic violence restraining order. You will need some documentation to seek an order, but it can help protect you from future harassment or abuses.