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Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
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How Domestic Violence Impacts Child Custody in California

If you are accused of domestic violence in Orange County, the outcome of the case can mean more than a criminal record, it can affect a family law case and if you’re a Green Card holder, it can impact your immigration status. Meaning, a conviction can lead to removal proceedings for lawful permanent residents.

Let’s say your spouse is accusing you of child abuse or spousal abuse or both and the state is pressing criminal charges against you. If you are convicted of domestic violence, it can affect your relationship with your children, which we’ll explain below.

For starters, let’s examine domestic violence and what it is under California law. It refers to hitting, kicking, scaring, throwing things, pulling hair, pushing, harassing, following, committing sexual assault, and threatening to do these things. Domestic violence involves family and household members and it can be physical, written, or verbal.


In many situations, a client will come to our firm after being arrested for domestic violence. Their spouse will be in the middle of filing for divorce and they’ll be facing criminal charges. They’ll usually have a restraining order against them too. For the purposes of this post, we want to specifically address domestic violence and child custody.

“How does a family law judge decide if there is domestic violence in a child custody case?” California judges treat cases as domestic violence cases if in the last five years:

  • The parent is convicted of abusing their spouse, or
  • A court decides that the parent committed spousal abuse or child abuse.

If neither of the above applies; for example, if the victim never filed charges, or if 911 was never called, then the judge would make a decision based on the available evidence. If the judge decides that a parent has been abusive toward their spouse or children, the judge will have to follow special rules that apply to domestic violence and child custody cases.

In most cases, a family law judge cannot give custody to the abusive parent, but a judge can give that parent visitation.“Are there any exceptions?” Yes, there are. Occasionally, a judge may give custody to a parent who has committed domestic violence. Before deciding to award custody to the parent who committed domestic violence, the judge will consider if:

  • It is in the child’s best interests,
  • The parent has completed a 52-week batterer’s program,
  • The parent has not continued the violence,
  • The parent has followed court orders for a substance abuse program or parenting class,
  • The parent has strictly followed probation, parole, or the terms of a restraining or protective order.

Related: Firearms Restraining Orders in California

We hope you find this information useful. If you are facing domestic violence charges in Orange County, contact our firm for a free case evaluation.