Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse in Custody Cases

It may seem obvious that if your spouse is physically abusive, a drunk, or a drug addict, you should be awarded sole custody of your children without any difficulty. The Arizona statutes, in fact, provide that custody shall not be awarded to a parent who has committed significant domestic violence or who has a significant history of such violence. The statutes also provide that there is a presumption that awarding custody to a parent who recently abused drugs or alcohol is not in the children’s best interest. It follows that it should be a slam dunk to get sole custody when your spouse is violent or has substance abuse problems.

But not so fast. At the beginning of a case, the courts generally views each parent as competent. It is your burden to prove that your spouse is abusive, is an alcoholic, or a drug addict. And that’s where the problems arise.

Most people do not commit domestic violence in public or in the presence of witnesses. Domestic violence, while occurring in epidemic numbers, is typically committed behind closed doors. The victims often are too ashamed, embarrassed or frightened to tell the police or other people when the abuse occurs. In fact, the victim may conceal the evidence of the abuse.

Similarly, many people who abuse drugs or alcohol maintain jobs and otherwise make themselves appear to the public as perfectly normal, responsible people. They either abuse substances in the privacy of their own home or with other abusers who will not testify against them in court.

Asserting that your spouse is abusive, an alcoholic or a drug addict, without evidence to back up the claim, can backfire. A slick attorney may try to make the victim look like someone who is making a false claim in order to win custody. It is not unheard of for the abuser either to threaten the children or to buy them off with gifts, in order to get them to back the abuser.

However, you do not have to let the abuser use the court system to mistreat you further. It may be the scariest or most difficult thing you have ever done, but you can take control of your life. You know you and your children deserve better. Backing down is not an option.

The way to stop the abuse is to be prepared before going to court. You must gather evidence before making your claims. Abusers often are arrogant and make mistakes. There are many ways to prove abuse. The trick is to prepare the case before making your claim. No judge knowingly wants to put the children in the hands of a physically violent person, a drunk or a drug addict.

Therefore, it is essential to get the evidence in advance so you do not appear as though you are making things up to get an advantage in court. While judges do not want to benefit abusers, they also frown on the practice of telling tales to disrupt the relationship between children and the other parent. There are many ways to prove abuse. Some are obvious and some are not. It is important to explore all possibilities with an experienced attorney who will support and assist you in preparing your strategy and accumulating evidence before you go to court.