Quick answer: Smart Thinking. You need evidence, and you need evidence that will withstand scrutiny and stand up in court. If your spouse is abusive or dishonest, you need to prove it.
What evidence do I need to protect my child from abuse in a divorce settlement?
Utah courts prefer to give parents joint or shared custody. Without a history of domestic violence or some other reason to deviate from a joint custody arrangement, a judge will likely allow both parents some kind of custody.
A judge will need more evidence than your word to deviate from a shared custody arrangement. Other evidence that may influence custody arrangements includes:
● Police record of domestic violence calls
● Orders of protection
● Medical records of abuse
● Witness testimony
○ Social workers
○ Your children
● Social media
How do I build a journal of abuse that I can use during mediation or in court?
Hire an experienced local attorney who has the experience and expertise to protect you and your children. A custody lawyer will help you know what evidence to collect and how to collect it. A divorce lawyer specializing in custody rights can also explain how you can be protected from punitive abuse and preserve the weight of your testimony in court.
Your lawyer can help you decide which witnesses will be the most helpful to your case. Start by making a list of possible witnesses, their full names, basic contact information, and what they know about your situation.
If you are building a case of abuse or dishonesty, keep a journal of any suspicious behaviors and incidents. Consider using the following categories in your journal: Date, Time, Incident, Witnesses, Paper Trail (email, etc.), Comments. Keep the journal up to date by entering any incidents that occur.
Take photos. Photograph any injuries, including a pencil or finger in the photo if needed to provide scale. Include a photo of the entire injured person and close-up images of the injury.
Tell your child’s doctor about your suspicions and ask for help collecting evidence.
Don’t wait for multiple incidents of abuse before leaving an abusive relationship. If you feel unsafe or suspect that your children are being abused, get help now. Building an evidence journal is not a reason to stay in a dangerous situation.
Isn’t there an app for gathering evidence before a divorce?
There are several choices for evidence-gathering apps. Apps such as DocuSAFE and iWitnessed help survivors and allies make a secure record of events. Eyewitness evidence can change the outcome of divorce and custody proceedings.
A “contemporaneous note” is a written record created immediately or soon after an event. A contemporaneous note doesn’t need to be formal to establish witness reliability. Words jotted on a napkin, a short email to yourself, or an abbreviated entry in an app – any written content will add weight to witness testimony.
DocuSAFE is a free app created by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), with funding from the Office on Victims of Crime (OVC). This app was designed to help victims of abuse, sexual assault, stalking, online harassment, fraud, and dating violence.
DocuSAFE helps survivors store documentation in one central location where it can be retrieved easily. If the survivor chooses to do so, documentation may be shared with law enforcement, a lawyer, or a judge. The app also includes information about identifying abusive behavior and where to seek help.
Consider whether it’s safe to download DocuSAFE or other similar evidence-recording apps before you do so. If you fear that your spouse is monitoring your device, either physically or remotely, seek help and consult with your divorce lawyer.
What about neglect?
Perhaps your spouse would never hit anyone, but something is still wrong. If your spouse neglects your child in nonviolent ways, it is still considered abuse. Your attorney will help you know what evidence you need to collect to show neglectful behavior and how it should be handled in court.
Tell your divorce attorney if your spouse exhibits any of the following behaviors (or allows your child to be cared for by anyone exhibiting any of the following behaviors):
- Drives while high or intoxicated with your child in the car
- Neglects to provide basic care (food, safe environment, medical care, etc.)
- Abandons your child in an unfamiliar or dangerous place
- Restrains or locks up your child
- Threatens, damages property, punches walls, throws things
- Improperly handles guns, knives, dangerous chemicals, or dangerous animals around a child
- Inappropriately exposes a child to adult material, sexual situations, drugs, or alcohol
- Cruel behavior or neglect of any kind
If your spouse is exhibiting abusive or erratic behavior, your divorce lawyer should know about it. Likewise, dishonest behavior of any kind, including financial dishonesty, may affect a divorce settlement in your favor. For best results, seek professional advice from a divorce attorney in Davis, Salt Lake, or Weber counties.