Parenting Time and Domestic Violence

Last updated August 2012

Domestic violence is an issue in establishing parenting time (also known as visitation) even when custody is not contested. Parenting time must be considered both when a victim who is a parent seeks a protective order and when the parents divorce. Courts may also modify parenting time schedules as children’s and families’ needs change over time. As with custody, the main consideration in deciding the time and circumstances for a child’s contact with a non-custodial parent should be the best interest of the child, with priority on the safety of the child and the abused parent.

The court must consider several unique issues in setting parenting time in the context of domestic violence. First, it should consider potential danger to the children or trauma from witnessing past violence in deciding whether parenting time is appropriate. Second, if parenting time is ordered, the court must decide how to arrange for transfer of the children. Transfer by a third party may be necessary to avoid or minimize contact between the victim and the perpetrator, or to avoid having the perpetrator learn where the victim is living. Third, the court must decide whether visitation should be supervised. If the court orders supervised visitation it must decide where the visitation is to occur, who should supervise it and the circumstances in which the supervisor should intervene or terminate the visitation.
According to Lundy Bancroft, a recognized author, workshop leader and consultant on domestic violence and child maltreatment, the main risk to children during parenting time does not come from exposure to new acts of violence. Instead, he asserts that there is “far greater danger . . . of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse [of the children] by the batterer during visits. Children from domestic violence are particularly vulnerable psychologically because they are already scarred by the violence they have been exposed to.”[i] Bancroft identifies 20 factors courts should examine in deciding whether to allow a batterer unsupervised visitation with his children. These include the abuser’s level of violence and pervasiveness of control. Level of entitlement and self-centeredness, history of boundary issues, level of manipulativeness and sexual assaults against the partner are indicators of risk of sexual abuse of the children. Bancroft suggests that because of the complexities in assessing risk to children from parenting time, a state-certified batterer program is a valuable and underutilized resource in evaluating perpetrators for risk.[ii]
  • Courts should engage in a thorough, systematic assessment to determine whether parenting time by the perpetrator is in the children’s best interest and impose appropriate supervision and transfer requirements, as necessary.

[i] Bancroft, L., “Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes,” (1998),
[ii] Ibid.