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When You Suspect Domestic Violence and/or Abuse After a CA Custody Decree

There are few things more troubling than suspecting that another parent is exposing your child to domestic violence and/or abuse after a custody decree has already been set in place by a court. Domestic violence is always deeply concerning, but not having the ability to live in the house where the abuse is potentially occurring means you may feel limited in your ability to detect the abuse, prevent it from occurring, and otherwise protect your child.

If you do have reason to suspect that domestic violence or abuse (which can include emotional abuse, sexual abuse, threats against persons or property, etc.) is occurring in another parent’s household in California – whether directed at your child or another person in the household, such as a step-sibling or step-parent – there are steps you can take to protect your child and protect your parental rights.

Obtaining a Restraining Order Against a Former Spouse

California courts will award restraining orders against another parent, even after a custody decree giving that parent custody, if you can present evidence that your child is in danger of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. A restraining order can require the other parent to stay away from the child and/or you, or prevent the parent from contacting the child or you, as well as involving other restraints to protect you and the child. If the other parent violates the order, e.g. coming to your house, law enforcement can arrest the parent for violating the restraining order.

There are several types of restraining orders available to parents in California. You can seek an emergency protective order from the police without going to court, although this will only be valid for a limited time. You can also seek a temporary restraining order (valid for up to several weeks) from a court without notifying the other parent, and you will have the opportunity to later convert this into a permanent restraining order against the other parent.

Petitioning the Court for a Custody/Visitation Modification

In addition to obtaining a restraining order against another parent, you can also ask the California family law court that handed down the custody (or visitation) decree to modify that order in light of the fact that domestic violence or other forms of abuse are now occurring.

While courts intend for custody determinations to be permanent, they are willing to modify these decrees (e.g. changing the decree from shared custody with the other parent to sole custody in your favor) when there has been a material change in circumstances since the date of the original decree which justifies the change. Certainly, evidence of domestic violence or other abuse which negatively affects the best interests of your child could qualify as such a material change of circumstances leading to a court modification of the visitation or custody order.

Get Answers to Your California Family Law Questions

At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/divorce process. Our partners, Brian A. Baker and Gary W. Kearney, are both Family Law Specialists, as certified by the California State Bar. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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