In the United States, more than 15 million children live in a home in which domestic violence has occurred.* If you are a parent and a domestic violence survivor who is considering a divorce, legal separation or paternity action, protecting a child from the effects of domestic violence in the home can be a significant concern. During these legal processes, survivor parents often seek to shield children from a violent parent, by filing a motion with the Court. In that motion, a parent may allege that violence in the home has negatively affected the children. Many times, the child’s behavior can be a warning sign that exposure to violence has caused harm to the child. Observations of specific behavioral changes and physical symptoms in children, described in a motion filing, can therefore be helpful to parents seeking to protect children, in family Court.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, the fear and anxiety caused by one parent being abused by the other can dramatically affect a child. Children who witness violence in the home can be at substantially increased risk for long-term mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and physical health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. Alarmingly, children who have witnessed domestic violence have an increased risk of growing up to be abusers and/or victims of abuse, themselves. It is best to work with a mental health professional, to address any trauma caused to your child by exposure to domestic violence.
The immediately observable effects of exposure to violence can vary, depending on the age and developmental level of the child.
- Pre-school aged children exposed to violence may revert to behaviors they used to exhibit, when they were younger. These can include bed-wetting or other accidents, baby talk, thumb sucking and an increase in crying. The child may also begin to have trouble sleeping and may have nightmares or fear of going to bed.
- School-aged children may self-isolate. They may begin to resist participation in activities, may avoid social interaction, and their school performance may start to suffer. Children this age often feel guilty or angry, but they may not always be able to articulate what they feel, or why; their emotional conflict and stress may cause them to experience frequent gastrointestinal issues or headaches.
- Older children who experience violence in the home can seek out high-risk behaviors, such as use of alcohol or drugs, or having unprotected sex. Teens may have trouble making friends and may have low self-esteem. They may act out in school, bully other children, or get into trouble, resulting in law enforcement contacts.
We work with domestic violence issues and survivors, as a regular part of our family practice. Whether you are considering a divorce, legal separation, placement modification, or a paternity matter, if you are dealing with these issues and are concerned about the effects of your child’s exposure to abuse or intimate partner violence, your concerns are relevant and important, in family court. There are many options available to you, as you work to ensure that your child is protected. Feel free to contact our office, to schedule a no-cost telephone consultation with one of our attorneys, to learn more.
*Reminder: If you feel as though your physical safety, or that of your child, is at risk, call law enforcement. If you are seeking resources or support, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. If you are unable to talk, go to thehotline.org or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.