Impact of New Maryland Domestic Violence Bills on Child Custody

Domestic violence is a more common problem than you might believe. 1.3 million American women are victims of physical assault by a sexual partner every year. Some of these physical assaults result in homicide. Not all victims are women, but about 85% are. Maryland courts take allegations of domestic violence into account when determining child custody. Often the abusers not only abuse their partners, but also abuse children in the house, triggering the cycle of intergenerational violence whereby male children grow up to abuse their own partners and children. Several measures were recently proposed in the Maryland General Assembly that are expected to increase victim protection in the domestic violence context.

One of the bills reduces the burden of proof required to get a protective order against the person allegedly committing the domestic violence. The burden of proof in Maryland to get such an order currently is “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher standard that any other state in the nation. This measure would lower the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence.” State Senator Brian E. Frosh said this measure is the most important in the group of bills, explaining that the preponderance of the evidence standard is what’s used in almost other civil matters. The Maryland governor’s office found that 1777 protective orders out of 19,043 applications were denied based on the petitioner’s inability to met the high burden of proof.

Another bill calls for those who commit domestic violence in front of children to receive an additional five years in prison. About 70% of domestic violence incidents happen in front of children and can do serious damage to them psychologically. Vicki Sadehvandi, the executive director of Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) noted that “Witnessing the abuse creates ‘the cycle of abuse… Even if they escape physical injury, they suffer from mental injury/abuse.” Many who go on to commit acts of domestic violence were victims or witnesses to domestic violence when younger. The goal of the bill is to create a deterrent for the man people who perpetrate domestic violence repeatedly.

The third bill would add second-degree assault to the list of offenses for which a victim can get a final protection order. If the bill passes, a victim will be able to get a permanent final protective order after the perpetrator is sentenced, rather than after a perpetrator has served a term of five years. This can be important for victims who are concerned when an abuser is released before the full term of five years and begins stalking or otherwise harassing the victim.

A final protection order is important to child custody issues because it requires the court to keep the safety of a child and an abuse victim in mind when setting up visitation and other matters. In fact, domestic violence can be a reason to deny visits altogether if a judge decides it is necessary to keeping a victim and a couple’s children safe.

If you are dealing with sensitive child custody issues, contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation. Our office may be able to help you through this difficult time.

More Blogs:

Dissipation of Marital Funds in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 26, 2013

Neglect in Maryland Family Law Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 12, 2013

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