When Does Domestic Violence Lead to Removal Proceedings?

When Does Domestic Violence Lead to Removal Proceedings?

Dealing with domestic violence situations can be really tough. Like, it can feel super overwhelming trying to figure out your legal options if children are involved. Just know there are people out here who can help explain things.

I wanted to give a quick rundown on when domestic violence leads to removal proceedings in cases with kids. This stuff can get confusing fast, so hopefully breaking it down makes it a bit easier to understand.

Defining Removal Proceedings

First up – what exactly are removal proceedings? Basically, it’s when Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved and tries to take away custody of kids from their parents or guardians.

This usually happens if CPS believes the children are in danger, either from direct abuse or from witnessing domestic violence in the home. No parent wants to lose custody of their kids, so removal proceedings are a really big deal.

Grounds for Removal

There’s a few different situations where CPS can start the process of removal proceedings if domestic violence is a factor. These include:

  • Physical abuse – If one parent is physically abusive to the children, CPS can try to remove them from that dangerous home environment.
  • Witnessing violence – Even if the kids are not directly abused, studies show that witnessing domestic violence causes emotional and psychological harm. So CPS will often get involved if there’s violence in the household that kids are exposed to.
  • Inability to protect – If one parent cannot or will not protect the children from an abusive partner, CPS may claim they have failed in their duty as a parent and seek removal of the children.

Those are some of the most common situations, but there can also be other factors that lead removal proceedings to start.

What Counts as Domestic Violence?

When determining if domestic violence played a role, CPS and family courts look at both physical and non-physical behaviors between intimate partners. This includes:

  • Physical abuse – hitting, shoving, strangling, etc.
  • Sexual abuse – forced sex acts without consent
  • Emotional abuse – controlling behavior, intimidation, stalking
  • Financial abuse – stealing money, restricting access to funds
  • Digital abuse – tracking devices, accessing emails/texts without permission

So while physical violence seems obvious, those other coercive and controlling behaviors also fall under the domestic violence umbrella when deciding removal proceedings.

The Removal Process Step-By-Step

If CPS believes the kids are at risk, the removal process usually goes like this:

  1. Investigation – CPS will look into reports of child abuse and neglect or domestic violence.
  2. Emergency removal – If there are immediate safety concerns, CPS can remove kids from the home without a court order first.
  3. Court hearing – Within days of emergency removal, there will be a hearing where a judge reviews the reasons for removal.
  4. Adjudication – There is then a full trial in family court where it’s decided if allegations of abuse/neglect are substantiated.
  5. Disposition – If the judge agrees with CPS after the trial, the court will formally remove custody from the parents.

Parents can fight against removal by presenting evidence and testimony on their behalf throughout the legal process. But once disposition occurs and the judge finalizes their decision, removal is ordered and CPS takes over custody.

After Removal Occurs

So what happens next if your kids have been removed because of domestic violence? A few things:

  • Kids typically live with another family member or foster family
  • Parents will have restricted, supervised visitation at most
  • Parents need to follow CPS case plan to regain custody eventually
  • CPS can try to terminate parental rights completely

It’s obviously an awful situation, but following the CPS case plan, going to court-ordered counseling, attending parenting classes, etc. can show you’re addressing issues and deserve another chance.

Domestic Violence & Child Custody Battles

Even before removal proceedings start, domestic violence can severely impact custody battles between parents in divorce/separation cases too.

Many states have laws about considering domestic violence as a major factor when awarding child custody. For example, Arizona law says:

“If the court determines that a parent who is seeking custody has committed an act of domestic violence against the other parent, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of custody to the parent who committed the act of domestic violence is contrary to the child’s best interests.”

So right off the bat, the abusive parent is essentially considered unfit for getting majority custody. The victimized parent gets a strong presumption in their favor that they should have primary custody.

It then becomes really tough for an abusive parent to try getting 50/50 or full custody once domestic violence enters the equation. Some other ways it hurts them in family court:

  • The court may order only supervised visitation between that parent and children
  • They may be required to attend counseling or anger management classes before getting unsupervised access again
  • The court can mandate they only have custody exchanges at secure, protected locations
  • Their custody time could be further limited based on other factors related to the abuse

So domestic violence can be absolutely devastating to an abusive parent’s case when fighting over child custody arrangements. The victimized, protective parent gains a huge advantage thanks to domestic violence laws.

Getting Help From a Lawyer

Trying to navigate custody cases involving domestic violence is hard without an experienced attorney on your side. Having a lawyer represent you in negotiations or in court can make a huge difference.

Some things a domestic violence lawyer can provide:

  • Help gathering evidence like medical records, police reports, etc.
  • Guide you through the confusing legal process
  • Argue to restrict the abusive parent’s access to kids
  • Advocate for supervised visitation requirements
  • Fight against false accusations of abuse by the other party
  • Negotiate favorable custody and child support agreements

Having an aggressive lawyer makes it much more likely courts will issue protection orders, set restrictions on the abusive ex, and award greater custody rights to the victimized parent. So don’t go through it alone without speaking to a domestic violence attorney first.


Dealing with domestic violence and child custody issues can be overwhelming. But hopefully this article helped explain a bit about how it can lead to CPS removal proceedings or hurt an abusive parent’s rights in family court.

Some key takeaways:

  • CPS can try removing kids from homes where they’re abused or witness domestic violence
  • Even non-physical abuse counts when determining if domestic violence played a role
  • Custody battles get really complicated once domestic abuse enters the picture
  • Abusive parents have a tougher time getting custody arrangements in their favor
  • Speaking with a domestic violence lawyer is highly recommended

Dealing with this stuff is challenging, but getting informed on the process and your options is an important early step. Wishing you all the best in keeping your kids safe.