One More Battleground: Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and the Batterers’ Relentless Pursuit of their Victims Through the Courts


Courtesy Source: AMPP




When a couple divorces, the legal system may become a symbolic battleground on which the male batterer continues his abuse. Custody and visitation may keep the battered woman in a relationship with the battering man; on the battleground, the children become the pawns.36

After looking at how domestic violence operates as a mechanism of control, perhaps it is not surprising to discover that batterers manipulate the courts and their victims during dissolution, custody, and visitation proceedings. After all,domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that is not easily reversed, so separation alone is unlikely to break the pattern of abuse.

There are numerous reasons why a batterer chooses to use the courts and the litigation process; many of them are explored below. Before delving into the specific reasons, it is important to discuss the frequency with which batterers decide to participate in family court proceedings.

As mentioned earlier, fathers who abuse are twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children as nonviolent fathers, and notably, abusive fathers are three times as likely to be in arrears of child support.37 In one recent study in Massachusetts, fifteen of the forty fathers (approximately 38 percent) who sought custody received sole or joint custody of the children, despite the fact that each and every one of these men were reported to have abused both the mother and the child/children prior to separation and continued to do so after separation.38

Thus, before exploring why courts may choose to disregard a history of domestic violence,39 it is important to note that a history of violence does not stop batterers from obtaining custody. In fact, a history of abuse seems to increase the likelihood that the batterer will seek custody.

So, why do batterers use family courts as a battleground at all? What is it about the courts, and family courts specifically, that is so appealing to them?

[because they can]

A. Only Available Contact Left

One of the most obvious reasons batterers use family courts is because it is often the only way they can legally maintain any contact with the survivor.40 After leaving their abuser, survivors may try to keep their contact information private in order to keep as much distance from the batterer as they can. They may seek formal protection through restraining orders or civil protection orders. They may move without allowing the batterer access to their current address or phone number. However, even if a survivor can achieve this physical distance from a batterer, the batterer may try to initiate contact through the courts by seeking custody of or visitation rights with his child/children. In this way,the courtroom may present an opportunity to prolong contact with the victim or seek contact that is not otherwise available.41

As mentioned earlier, not all batterers who abuse the mothers will abuse the children. Certainly, nuanced solutions exist that can provide an opportunity for fathers, even those with a history of domestic violence, to remain in some sort of communication with their children. Every family has unique circumstances that can allow for a variety of solutions;however, because the courts may be the only way and the only forum for abusive fathers to continue abusing their former spouse and children, it is important for courts to take a comprehensive look at each situation and to act carefully if a history of abuse is present.

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One More Battleground: Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and the Batterers’ Relentless Pursuit of their Victims Through the Courts


One More Battleground Domestic Violence, Child Custody, And the Batterers' Relentless Pursuit of Their Vict...