An accusation of (or conviction for) domestic violence might not just affect the rights and freedoms of the perpetrator in Nevada – it can affect the parenting of children too.
The legal ramifications of a conviction may impact child custody cases, potentially resulting in the loss of physical and legal custody and even termination of parental rights in extreme cases.
The justice system often errs on the side of caution because of the fear that unless action is taken, a child could be placed in danger and harmed. So, it is important to understand the far-reaching consequences of domestic violence in child custody cases.
Before we take a closer look at this, remember that when we refer to child custody in Nevada, it could be legal custody (which is the responsibility for making decisions for the child) or physical custody (which is usually awarded to the parent with whom the child spends most of their time).
It is important to be aware of the different contexts and which term applies.
How is domestic violence defined in Nevada?
Domestic violence is frequently misunderstood. It is not just physical violence committed against a spouse.
It encompasses emotional, mental, or sexual abuse, including acts like breaking and entering, bullying, trespassing, stalking and other harassment – against any household partner, even if you are not married.
This includes former spouses, fiancées, co-parents, “significant others”, roommates, children, legal custodians or guardians, and others. It applies also to dating relationships.
Laws have also been updated and expanded to include cyberbullying and cyberstalking, allowing more victims of domestic violence to seek justice.
Domestic battery and assault are both forms of domestic violence. Whereas battery involves physical contact (even if it does not result in injury), no physical contact is necessary in assault cases: threats are enough for an assault charge.
These cases are dealt with harshly by the Nevada justice systems as crimes committed in domestic settings against family or household members are always considered very serious.
How does an accusation or conviction affect child custody?
The first duty of the Nevada family courts is to protect the children in relationships. Their best interests always come first in child custody cases. Accordingly, if there is any threat of harm to the child, you can expect the court to take decisive action.
Allegations of domestic violence are taken extremely seriously when determining child custody.
If these allegations are substantiated or there is any history of domestic violence, the best interests of the child may not be best served by granting a parent primary or joint physical custody.
In such cases, unless strong evidence is provided to convince the judge otherwise, primary custody may be granted to the “other” parent.
The court must often determine whether primary physical custody of the children will be granted to the alleged abuser, the alleged victim, or both. The following factors will be considered:
- The effect of the alleged instances of domestic violence on the child
- Whether the accused continues to pose a danger to the child or the other parent
- The severity and frequency of the incidents
- Whether the accused is facing a criminal case
- Physical evidence of abuse (photographs, medical reports. etc.)
- The content of police reports
What is the impact on visitation rights?
Even parents denied primary or joint physical custody can usually still see their children. However, the courts may impose certain rules or restrictions on a parent with domestic violence allegations or convictions against their name.
The safety of the children is the primary focus of the courts in these situations, as well as the safety of the other parent.
In extreme cases, a restraining order or order of protection may be issued. The court can also revoke the accused parent’s visitation rights (temporarily or for the long-term). However, this is not the preferred option as Nevada courts prefer that a child maintains contact with both parents if possible.
Adjustments may need to be made to existing custody and parenting plan arrangements to enable this to happen.
For instance, supervised visits may be required. This means that another responsible adult must be present to monitor the child’s safety when in the company of a parent accused of domestic violence (all costs are to be paid by the accused).
The judge may ban overnight visits altogether or, as a condition of being allowed to see the child, anger management, domestic assault, substance abuse or parenting classes may be mandated for the offender, depending on the nature of his or her domestic violence history.
The judge may order any other actions to ensure the child’s safety, including ensuring that visitation exchanges occur in a safe location, like a police station, or prohibiting the possession or consumption of alcohol or drugs before or during visitation.
What can victims of domestic violence in Nevada do?
If you’re a victim of domestic violence in Nevada, you can ask the court for a domestic abuse protection order.
The forms are available on the Administrative Office of the Nevada Judicial Branch website. The lawyers at Goldstein Law Ltd can assist you with this, if necessary, as well as with your child custody case.
There are also community resources available for victims of domestic violence in Nevada.
For instance, the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence provides an up-to-date map of services available in each Nevada county.
The A.A.R.D.V.A.R.C. (An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection) also lists the telephone numbers of agencies that can help.
Safe Nest provides direct aid, like education, shelter housing, and counseling for victims (Tel: 1-800-486-7282) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800799-7233 is available 24/7 for victims.
Can parental rights be terminated in Nevada?
The courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights. The prevailing view is that a child benefits from the input of both parents for a healthy upbringing.
However, if a parent has abandoned a child or has repeatedly neglected them or put them in danger of serious physical, mental or emotional abuse, the courts may act and take permanent measures, revoking parental rights altogether.
The parent will be deemed unfit to provide care for the child and then lose all rights to both physical and legal custody of the child.
This drastic solution is permanent and rarely used in Nevada.
If you need assistance with a domestic violence issue in relation to child custody in Nevada, call (702) 919-1919 and speak with an experienced family law attorney for an honest assessment and advice on the next steps.