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Does reporting abuse hurt custody chances?

If you and/or your children experience domestic violence in New York, the most advisable course of action is to protect yourself and them by leaving the home. During the child custody hearing that will likely follow your escape, you may think that if you report the abuse to the court, you will receive custody of your children over your former partner. Unfortunately, the opposite may be true. The Washington Post reports the results of a recent study at George Washington University that found that reporting abusive behavior by a past partner may actually hurt your chances of obtaining custody. 

According to the study, the courts may interpret a report of abusive behavior against a former partner as an attempt at parental alienation. In other words, the perception is that by reporting domestic violence, you may be trying to turn the child against the other parent so that he or she will side with you instead. The study also found that reports of domestic violence tended to disadvantage mothers reporting domestic violence against fathers more often than fathers making reports against mothers, suggesting a gender bias.

However, an expert in family law pointed out several flaws in the study: It does not consider the severity of the reported abuse, it does not verify the accuracy of the reports before drawing conclusions and it does not take into account that it is usually child protective services or law enforcement, rather than the courts, that deal with the most severe child abuse cases. Therefore, though acknowledging that the study highlights some important points, its reliability suffers due to the “skewed sample” of cases that form its basis. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.