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Advocates want child safety to be a priority in custody cases

Custody cases are often the most contentious aspect of a divorce. When cases involve domestic violence, the stakes can be even higher.

After a series of high-profile cases involving child custody and domestic violence, abuse survivors are calling on California courts to prioritize child safety when making custody decisions.

Child safety concerns

Domestic abuse survivors are saying that judges and mediators ignored warning signs about violent guardians and spouses when dismissing custody requests. They say the courts are currently too focused on ensuring that both parents have equal access to custody, even when one parent has a history of domestic abuse and violence. Domestic abuse victims and their children may be at higher risk of violence during a separation process because abusers are angry and may use the children to lash out at the other parent.

Proposed legislation

Advocates are pushing for new legislation to mandate judges and mediators to receive training to help them identify the signs of domestic and child abuse. If the law goes into effect, there will be a ban on family reunification services in some cases. The proposed legislation would also allocate $25 million in federal funding for the state to use to prioritize child safety in divorce and custody cases.

Advocates believe that the state can prevent many cases of parents killing children during a divorce or custody hearing through court reform and accountability for judges. They also want the state to do a better job of enforcing restraining orders and enact stricter rules regarding child visitation.

While the policy of prioritizing equal access to custody for both parents may be well-meaning, it may place some children at risk when domestic violence is a factor in the relationship.