Parents (predominantly women) who are divorcing a spouse who has been violent toward them and/or their children can go through difficult custody battles. They may assume that they will be automatically granted sole custody, but that's not always the case.
Sadly, some women are so emotionally damaged by the abuse (perhaps even showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder) that they don't present themselves in court as parents capable of taking care of their children. Women can and do lose custody of their children to an abusive parent.
Some Misconceptions About Abusive Parents
It's a common misconception that if children don't seem to be afraid of a parent that he or she isn't abusive. However, many children form what's called "traumatic bonding" with a parent. It's basically the same as Stockholm syndrome, where captives develop a connection with their captors. Children may not be able to see how abusive their parent is or believe that they deserve the abuse. An attorney may enlist the help of a child psychologist to determine what the parent-child relationship truly is.
Another misconception that may cause parents not to fight to limit visitation by the other parent is that once the parents have separated, the children are no longer in danger -- particularly if they weren't the ones being abused. However, researchers have found that many abusers use their children to try to control and intimidate the other parent. A loss of power caused by a separation or divorce can bring out even more abusive behavior -- putting the children in danger.
The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Domestic Violence
Besides fighting for the safety of your children after a parent has left an abusive relationship, it's important to seek some type of counseling for your children. Even if they're no longer witnessing domestic violence, the experience can stay with them into adulthood and impact their own lives.
According to the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, survivors of childhood domestic violence are as much as 74 times more likely to be the perpetrators of some kind of violent crimes themselves. Even if they don't handle their feelings by becoming outwardly aggressive, they're more likely to suffer from alcoholism, depression, heart disease and other physical and mental conditions.
Often, people are embarrassed to admit they were "victims" of domestic violence. However, it's essential to ensure that your attorney has the information necessary to effectively fight to protect you and your children.
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