When Visitation May Not Be in the Best Interests of the Child

Here in Florida (and many states), the law presumes that frequent contact with both parents is in a child’s best interests. Normally, of course, that is true. Unfortunately, in some cases, it really isn’t.

In the article below, the Charleston (WV) Gazette spotlights an important point: a parent who does not threaten his child’s physical safety may nonetheless damage the child, in ways that are not always readily apparent to others. The article below refers to such abuse as a “silent form of abuse”. It is also often referred to as “hidden abuse”.

Who are the victims of the featured father’s alleged non-violent abuse of his son? The article makes it clear that both the son and the mother are victims, in different ways, of course.

But, on a deeper level, every girl/woman in the son’s present and future life may also be victims of this father’s alleged influence on his son. And the relationships they might otherwise have had. Because of visitation.

Charleston Gazette (West Virginia) – December 4, 2005, Sunday


Visits to abusive parent can harm innocent child

Kari Major, For the Sunday Gazette-Mail

I was sitting on my front porch having coffee with my neighbor Melanie. She moved her leg to the side, revealing an angry-looking, softball-sized bruise.

“Isn’t this lovely?” she asked. She told me how her 8-year-old son had kicked and punched her when she asked him to come to the table for dinner. This really surprised me. Brian is a friendly, easygoing kid with no history of behavior problems. When I asked her why on earth he would ever do such a thing, she replied, “Because his daddy told him he could hit me all he wants, because I’m nothing, and I don’t have any feelings.”

Although Melanie obtained a divorce and moved away from her abusive ex-husband five years ago, the family court in the county she lived in granted him “shared parenting” rights. Melanie noticed early on that Brian’s behavior would deteriorate after returning from his father’s house. Complaints to her attorney and the family court system were met with accusations of fabrication. Her ex-husband’s attorney threatened to take Brian away if she didn’t stop “harassing him about his parenting style.” She now takes Brian to weekly counseling sessions, to try to undo at least some of the damage.

Melanie’s situation is common. Even though she was able to cut all ties to her ex-husband, the laws that were designed to help battered women offer inadequate protection for her children. This flaw in the system places them in situations that are at best unhealthy, and at the very worst, terrifyingly dangerous.

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior used by one person to maintain power and control in a relationship. When the victim is able to break free from the cycle, the children rapidly become the abuser’s most effective weapon to control, harass, and ultimately harm the actual target – the other parent. Although most often identified with fathers, mothers are equally able to use their children as inanimate pieces of property, to financially drain the other parent, or simply to inflict emotional pain.

What does this teach children about domestic violence? It teaches by example that domestic violence is to a great degree acceptable. If one is assaulted by a stranger, there would be very little, if any, further contact with that person. But when that person is a parent, spending time with them is not optional. When visitation is forced upon the child, it teaches the child that the abuser continues to be dominant, that they are less important, and that their needs don’t matter. It simply renders them powerless.

Our family court system needs to develop new guidelines to protect children from this insidious, often silent form of abuse. Under the current statute, children are required by law to spend time with the noncustodial parent until the age of 14. Custodial parents who do not comply with the court’s ruling can face fines, court costs, and even incarceration. In Melanie’s situation, the fear of losing custody of her child to the abuser is so intense, she feels she has no choice but to continue to return him to his father as ordered. Children like Brian desperately need the protection of the courts.

Physical violence and emotional abuse are not isolated behaviors directed at only one victim. As long as our system continues to place the children of abuse in the hands of the abusers, we will continue to sow the seeds of abuse for generations to come.

For educational purposes only and not intended to infringe on Copyright 2005 Charleston Newspapers