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Domestic Violence, Visitation and Custody Decisions in New York Family Courts, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2002
60 pages
This study investigated the frequency of visitation and custody appeals by batterers and documented the response of the court when an abusive partner applied for visitation.
Child protective services tend to hold mothers accountable for the harm to children of witnessing intimate partner violence despite the fact that women are more often the victims of physical abuse than men. Battered women can be charged with neglect for failure to protect their children from witnessing violence. Victims of domestic abuse can face loss of custody of their children if they do not separate from the abusive partner. Ironically, when a woman does separate from an abuser who is the father of her children, the court may grant his petition for visitation. A review of Family Court records in New York City and suburban Westchester County was conducted. The hypotheses were that (1) increased awareness of the impact of domestic violence on children would limit court-ordered access to children by a parent who had abused the other parent; and (2) the court was aware that domestic violence was typically a behavior pattern with a history of abuse and the probability of continuing abuse. In New York City, the findings indicate that family offense petitions and protection orders had little or no impact on the courts’ decisions regarding visitation and custody. The courts were granting visitation in most cases when there was evidence or an allegation of ongoing violence or threats by one parent against the other. In Westchester County, 51 percent of fathers enjoined by a protection order were granted visitation. Fathers were significantly more likely to be granted visitation in both New York City and Westchester County when they were enjoined by a protection order than when no family offense petition had been filed. The evidence suggests that visitation should be denied more often--at least as a temporary measure. Judges seem reluctant to suspend or deny visitation, and instead may resort to delaying tactics. The problem of visitation and custody in domestic violence cases certainly warrants further investigation. 28 references

Date Published: May 1, 2002