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Will your spouse's bad behavior impact custody in your divorce?

Everyone has a reason for seeking divorce, but some people experience more serious issues than others in their marriage. If one spouse has become physically or sexually abusive or developed addiction issues during the marriage, it can put everyone in the family at risk. These kinds of situations can lead to dramatic divorces and serious concerns.

If you hope to divorce a spouse who is abusive or an addict, you likely also worry about how he or she would treat your kids during parenting time or visitation. In fact, the likely outcome of the custody case could determine whether or not you decide to divorce your spouse. While it's impossible to predict with certainty the outcome of a custody case, you can look at the factors courts use to determine child custody and parental responsibilities to predict the likely outcome.

The courts care if behaviors impact the children

When Florida courts decide how to split up custody, including parental responsibility and time sharing (the technical term for "visitation" in Florida), they always consider the best interests of the children. Generally, the best interest of the children will involve maintaining a relationship with both parents after the divorce. In fact, more courts than ever before create parenting plans that will equally split parenting time and responsibilities.

However, in some circumstances, the courts will limit one parent's access to the children. For instance, they could award one parent sole parently responsibility for the children and relegate the other parent to only visitation (time sharing). In some cases, that visitation must have supervision. Other times, the courts could mandate completion of parenting classes, counseling or addiction rehabilitation before allowing any kind of substantial parenting time.

In cases of addiction, the courts tend to take illegal drugs somewhat more seriously than alcohol. The more documentation you have, including medical records, police reports, video or pictures from cellphones or eyewitness testimony, the better the chance that the courts will recommend interventions before allowing visitation or shared custody.

Abuse can damage children, even if they aren't the victims

Research has made it clear that childhood abuse can have a profound and lasting impact on the social success and mental health of survivors. While many survivors overcome their backgrounds, others develop substance abuse issues, mental health problems or even abusive behaviors. If the children have experienced abuse at the hands of your spouse, the courts will consider any documentation or testimony about that fact before deciding on custody.

Similarly, the courts will also concern themselves with whether the children directly witnessed the physical or sexual abuse of one parent by another. While they were not directly victimized in this scenario, witnessing the abuse can cause damage to the developing mental and emotional health of the children.

Those who witness abuse often develop similar symptoms to those who experience abuse firsthand, including increased risk for anxiety and depression. They could also end up exhibiting problem behaviors in social settings, like fighting, bullying others, lying and cheating. If there is a record of the spousal abuse and the fact that the children witnessed it, that could impact custody.