How to Prove Emotional Child Abuse for Custody

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to Prove Emotional Child Abuse for Custody

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Proving emotional child abuse for custody and parenting time purposes can be quite a challenge. But it's possible to establish it a few different ways in divorce cases, such as using a child custody evaluator or having the court appoint a guardian ad litem. Unlike cases where a child is physically abused, the scars of emotional abuse can be difficult for the lay person to observe.

Mother comforting son with hand on his shoulder

The Use of Child Custody Evaluators

During a divorce, it's easy to understand that a parent may exaggerate a situation in an attempt to get more time with their child or to punish the other parent. Thus, there are rules and processes in place to protect parents from false allegations. In the immediate situation of fighting for custody of a child, particularly one a parent believes is being abused by the other parent, the rules of divorce can be frustrating in the extreme.

Long ago, divorce courts began relying on child custody evaluators to assist in making decisions about parenting time. Ideally, child custody evaluators are objective, neutral parties who provide both information and an expert opinion to the court regarding where the child should live, and how much parenting time each parent should be allocated by the court.

The Use of a Guardian Ad Litem

Alternatively, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to review a child's situation and make recommendations about parenting time and child custody. A guardian ad litem may be a volunteer or a paid employee of the county where the divorce is being litigated.

The court appoints the guardian ad litem to act on behalf of the child's best interests. Unlike child custody evaluators, guardian ad litems may have limited professional training.

The Opinions of Child Custody Evaluators and Guardian Ad Litems in Custody Cases

Both a child custody evaluator and a guardian ad litem will meet with each parent, as well as the child, before making their determination about parenting time and custody. Both may also choose to speak with others involved in the child's life, such as teachers, counselors, or extended family.

They consider such things as the current relationship the child has with each parent, the stability each parent can offer, the parent's ability to cooperate in co-raising the child, the age of the child, the child's preferences, and other factors. They make their recommendations to the judge in the case.

Court Standard in Determining Child Custody

In every state, the court is bound to make child custody and parenting time determinations based on the best interests of the child. States have a presumption that the involvement of both parents is in a child's best interests, however, this presumption can be overcome based on proof to the contrary. In most cases, however, courts will allow contact with both parents to some extent or another.

It is difficult to remain objective when you think your child is being emotionally abused. As such, you may benefit from the advocacy of an attorney who understands the laws regarding child custody, particularly in cases of abuse. If you are lucky enough to have an uncontested divorce, however, you can file the paperwork on your own.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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