Child custody exchanges are an important part of co-parenting when the parents don't live together. They help maintain and build relationships between the child and each parent, and distribute responsibility for caring for the child or children. But what happens when things go wrong during an exchange?
Imagine a mother picking up her kids from her ex. He's late, or he accuses her of being late. Or one of them brings up a previously unresolved disagreement. Voices rise, tempers flare. The situation quickly escalates. The ex threatens the mother, pushes her, or tries to damage her car. Someone calls the police. Now what?
What Happens After a High-Conflict Child Exchange?
High-conflict child exchanges can turn into acts of domestic violence. Pennsylvania law defines domestic violence as violence directed at family or household members, sexual partners, or people who have a child in common.
Police must abide by certain guidelines during domestic violence calls in Pennsylvania. These include:
- Responding promptly
- Thoroughly investigating accusations of violence
- Ensuring the safety of the victims
- Informing victims of their rights
- Providing victims with social services information
Police officers may choose to make either a mandatory or discretionary arrest during a domestic violence situation.
Police only make mandatory arrests in one of the following circumstances:
- Police have probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence occurred
- The victim shows signs of injury caused by an act of domestic violence
- One of the spouses has violated a restraining order
- There is a warrant for the alleged abuser's arrest
Discretionary arrests involve a more subjective analysis of the situation. In general, police officers may make a discretionary arrest if they believe that an act of domestic violence occurred, even if none of the criteria for mandatory arrest are present.
Protection From Abuse Orders
Victims of domestic violence can file a Protection From Abuse order (PFA), also known as a Restraining Order. PFAs are civic orders, not criminal ones, intended to protect domestic violence victims from abuse. PFAs make it illegal for the abuser to contact the victim or their children for up to three years. If an abuser violates the PFA, they could face criminal charges that appear on their criminal record.
Someone seeking a PFA against their ex has to prove that their ex has either committed violence or threatened violence against them. A criminal conviction of domestic violence is the strongest proof a plaintiff can offer when seeking a PFA. Proof may be provided in other ways if there is no domestic abuse conviction, such as:
- Medical records and photographs showing bruises or injuries
- Eyewitness testimony of neutral parties and other witnesses describing violent acts or threats of violence
- The testimony of family and relatives
Served with a PFA Order?
PFAs or domestic violence charges can create long-term consequences that can impact the ability of the person served or charged to secure housing, pursue career opportunities, or obtain professional licensing, to name a few. Anyone served with a PFA or charged with domestic violence in Pennsylvania should hire a qualified lawyer as soon as possible.
Pennsylvania Family Lawyer
If you are on either side of a high-conflict child custody exchange situation in Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team can help. He has assisted many families in dealing with child custody issues, including PFAs, and knows how to fight for the best results possible. Contact the Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686 or sending us a message online.