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How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Texas

A history of physical or verbal abuse commonly surfaces in divorce proceedings. Many times allegations are based on fact, while some accusations may prove to be false. Regardless, family courts are often compelled to give them weight unless proven otherwise.

If there is a genuine concern about spousal or child abuse that’s been happening behind closed doors, it almost always comes up in a divorce case, especially when the case involves child custody. The presence of domestic violence (called family violence in Texas) can significantly affect how an abusive parent receives custody of his or her children.

If the abuse has been severe, the abuser could end up with supervised visitation and in the most extreme cases of abuse, loss of parental rights.

Family Violence Under Texas Law

Section 71.004(1) of the Texas Family Code defines family violence as, “An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.”

In many divorce cases, it is in the victim’s best interest to seek a Protective Order from the court. A Protective Order can help because it prohibits the abusive spouse from committing further acts of violence. It can also prohibit him or her from possessing a firearm, stalking the victim, going near the victim’s home and work, and/or harassing the victim.

What you need to know about domestic violence in child custody cases:

  • If a parent has a history of family violence in the past two years, or if the parent has sexually abused or assaulted their child, the law places a heavy burden against that parent from having possession of their child.
  • A parent cannot be a joint conservator if there has been a pattern or history of abuse against the other parent or a child.
  • Under certain circumstances, an abusive parent may still have custody or possession rights if it is in the child’s best interests.
  • Texas courts often presume that it is unsafe for an abusive parent to have unsupervised visitation. This does not always mean the parent will never have unsupervised visits with their child, it means the parent will have to demonstrate that the child is safe in their care and the abuse will not be repeated.

In some rare cases, an abusive parent can completely lose their parental rights. The termination of parental rights is reserved for extreme circumstances typically involving sexual assault or serious bodily injuries.