Can Mom Get Full Custody if Dad Emotionally and Verbally Abuses the Children?

Mom can get full custody of her children if Dad is emotionally and verbally abusive, but it’s far from guaranteed. For this to happen, though, Dad’s emotional and verbal abuse must be extremely severe, and Mom will have to gather as much evidence as she can to present to the court.

What Constitutes Emotional and Verbal Abuse From a Parent?

Simply put, emotional and verbal abuse occurs when a parent, through constant debasement, causes a child to feel that they are worthless or inept. Emotionally abusive parents tend to criticize everything their children do, and growing up in such an environment can have lifelong consequences.

Typical examples of psychological abuse include intentionally:

  • Humiliating the victim
  • Trying to control the victim’s behavior
  • Embarrassing or demeaning the victim on a regular basis
  • Denying the victim access to resources, particularly financial ones
  • Stalking

Several studies, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), have shown that emotional abuse causes long-term damage to the mental health of the victim. Furthermore, the NCADV states that emotional abuse is a stronger predictor of PTSD than physical abuse.

Consequences of Emotional and Verbal Abuse

There are a lot of societal safeguards for physical and sexual abuse, but there are far fewer for emotional and verbal abuse. As a result, many children are forced to endure emotional abuse for years, perhaps even their entire childhoods. It is not uncommon for victims of emotional abuse to suffer from:

  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Negative self talk
  • Difficulty building or maintaining relationships

These problems can last well into adulthood and have a negative impact on people’s lives, so any parent who suspects their spouse or ex is causing emotional harm to their children should do everything they can to win full custody.

Problems With Emotional Abuse Claims

Unlike claims of physical or sexual abuse, emotional and verbal abuse claims are often extremely difficult to substantiate. Allegations run rampant during a divorce or custody case, and without ample proof, courts are sometimes forced to shrug off emotional abuse claims or view them as grossly exaggerated.

Furthermore, the abusive parent’s counsel will probably argue that their client’s behavior is protected by the First Amendment, and this argument can be hard to counter. It’s important to remember that the First Amendment has its limits, and speech “integral to illegal conduct,” such as emotional abuse, is not constitutionally protected.

Evidence of Emotional Abuse

To successfully substantiate emotional abuse claims and avoid being shrugged off by the court, the parent alleging the abuse will want to document it as best as they can. Although the testimony of the children is a good start, it’s usually not enough. Other witnesses, especially those with no discernible bias (like neighbors, for example), will help solidify abuse claims.

It’s also important that the aggrieved parent provide physical evidence whenever possible. A good example is video evidence of one or more abusive events. Gathering this evidence might be unpleasant; the abusive parent will likely object, often loudly, to being recorded. Nonetheless, video is virtually irrefutable and much more difficult for courts to disregard than mere allegations or witness testimony.

In the Courts

Of course, emotional abuse is seriously taken into consideration in a custody case, but it’s not a proverbial “slam dunk.” It could be disregarded if sufficient evidence is unavailable. Any parent whose spouse or ex is emotionally abusive should gather as much evidence as they can and consult an attorney with experience in family law cases.


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