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Domestic violence in child custody evaluations

When ruling on a complicated divorce case, a family court judge will often turn to a variety of third party neutrals to assist in the decision. Property valuators and child custody evaluators are common impartial parties who assess the situation from a neutral standpoint and provide a recommendation to the judge deciding the case. The judge is not bound to incorporate that recommendation into the final divorce decree, but it can be a helpful took in the decision-making process.

Currently, child custody evaluators are utilized in approximately 20 percent of divorce cases in Las Vegas and throughout the country. Custody evaluators have very few national standards to follow when performing evaluations and making recommendations. As a result, their processes and results vary widely among family court jurisdictions. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there is one aspect of the variance among evaluators that is potentially troubling. Depending on the amount of domestic violence training they have undergone, there are significant inconsistencies among evaluators’ assessments of domestic violence and how it affects a family.

After conducting interviews with a small sample of custody evaluators, researchers deduced that evaluators who had not undergone significant domestic violence training were more likely to dismiss domestic violence as merely situational violence, which primarily occurs when a husband or wife lashes out in response to stress. As a result, these evaluators more commonly prioritized co-parenting above victim safety.

In comparison, evaluators with extensive domestic violence training were more likely to characterize domestic violence as intimate terrorism, which consists of long-term physical and psychological abuse. These evaluators more commonly placed safety concerns above co-parenting in their recommendations.

Source: The Huffington Post, “How Custody Evaluators Think about Domestic Violence,” Robert Hughes, Jr., 30 June 2011

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