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Legal Information: District of Columbia


Laws current as of
April 5, 2024

Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

The judge is supposed to take into account a parent’s history of domestic violence when making custody or visitation decision but many other factors will also be considered and the abusive parent may still receive custody or visitation rights.  If a judge determines that domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or parental kidnapping has occurred, the judge should presume that joint custody (or sole custody) is not in the best interest of the child (but the abusive parent can try to present evidence to change the judge’s mind).  If the judge believes that the parent committed family violence and the judge still gives that parent custody or visitation rights, the judge has to make a written statement outlining what factors support his/her decision.1

The judge can give the abusive parent visitation but only if the judge finds that the child and custodial parent can be protected from potential harm from the abusive parent.  It is up to the parent who committed the violence to prove that visitation will not endanger the child or harm the child’s emotional development.2  However, if the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault against you by the abuser and he was convicted of this crime in criminal court, the law does not allow him to get custody or visitation.3  For more information, see If my child was conceived from a sexual assault, can the biological father get custody or visitation?

It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence issues.  For information on how to find a lawyer see our DC Finding a Lawyer page.

1 D.C. Code § 16-914(a)(2), (a-1)
2 D.C. Code § 16-914(a-1)
3 D.C. Code § 16-914(k)