Verbal Abuse and Child Custody in Family Court

March 19, 2015 Kellie Jo Holly

What Role Does Verbal Abuse Play in Child Custody?

Verbal abuse and child custody remain mutually exclusive in today’s family court decisions. While verbal abuse breaks hearts and minds instead of bones (effects of verbal abuse), our family court system rarely considers verbal abuse when determining child custody. Unsettling as it is, family court may never consider verbal abuse and child custody needs concurrently for one reason: The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

When thinking about child custody and verbal abuse, you may read the First Amendment and say, “Free speech doesn’t give someone the right to verbally abuse anyone,” and you are correct. However, the amendment’s free speech clause makes it very difficult to prosecute anyone for what he or she says at home or in public. After all, if the government can limit what words we use in personal conversations, then it must first limit the words we use in public, in the press, and in the media. Not gonna happen.

Verbal abuse and child custody needs remain mutually exclusive in family court decisions because verbal abuse is not against the law. Discover why.This means that verbal abuse will most likely never become a reason to charge someone for domestic violence, which means that verbal abuse may never be a legal reason to deny custody of a child to a verbally abusive parent. I do not want verbal abuse to become illegal. I don’t want people to use verbal abuse, but if we allow the court (the government), to dictate what we say at home or in public, hurtful or not, then we allow a great danger that threatens our civil liberty.

Affecting Change in Verbal Abuse and Child Custody Decisions

Change must occur at the source to protect children from verbal abuse. It is the non-offending parent’s duty to end the abuse at home, but as we all know, the non-offending parent is often not their usual strong self by the time he or she realizes verbal abuse and child custody is an issue. Therefore, it is also the public’s duty to report verbal abuse of children because, regardless of verbal abuse’s standing under the law, verbal abuse is the foundation of all domestic violence. If you hear a parent verbally abusing their child, physical abuse inevitably follows in time.

Both public and private sector organizations take verbal abuse very seriously, but they can only use the presence of verbal abuse to make predictions of physical harm, and then use those predictions and the proof of emotional and mental damage verbal abuse causes to counsel abuse victims (and perhaps the offender). But the court cannot make judgments based on what might happen. It can only judge based on what did happen.

The court must see evidence of physical harm to some degree, and that requires concurrent or prior court cases proving guilt of domestic violence of the verbally abusive parent. If the department of social services is involved, their finding of physical abuse can help the children in custody fights, too. But still, verbal abuse and child custody needs is a non-issue in family court. Allegations of or proof of verbal abuse does not guarantee safety for the children (or the parent attempting to garner justice for their children).

Morally, we know that verbal abuse and child custody needs should come together to influence family court judges’ decisions. However, the judges must abide by the law to determine custody. Verbal abuse is not against the law, so it cannot legally influence child custody decisions. The real solution to this problem is not in changing the law, but in changing how seriously society views verbal abuse so that we, the public and the adult abused family members, can recognize signs of abuse and make changes to end the abuse sooner.

That is how we save our children. The court cannot do it for us.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2015, March 19). Verbal Abuse and Child Custody in Family Court, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

May, 21 2019 at 10:36 am

Waw l have read all your issues lady's.
Having relationship is working together as a team and respecting each others differences.
Until you recognised that ,then you work on agreement. It's a appropriately by talking to each other as human.for example say l respect your with her now,but can we still work together for the best interest of our child.our kids would be happy we are communicating positively.verbal abuse is pointless actions,you get nowhere.other than blaming yourself or everyone around you.
I wish everyone the best and no matter what always choose to be a role model,positive parents.peace

December, 4 2018 at 11:03 am

I'm trying to leave my vebally and emotionally abusive marriage. He was physical for about a year and a half but has physically abused my son for 4 years off and on. DCF is now involved due to this last incident with my son and my son is staying with my mom which was my decision and my moms. My son is my husbands step son. My husband has 2 sons from a previous marriage and we have 3 girls together. My husband angered easy and can get physical. He is smart and knows how to be when people are watching. He is currently in court with his ex, she is asking for modification of custody due to the current situation with my son proving him to be a threat. But the courts just don't seem to see my husband as a threat, they even told him he could get full custody . This would be so terrible not just for the boys but for me as well because I have no say over their behaviors. And one of them has severe ADHD which needs so much structure so much care that he can't keep up with the schedule like that he gives in. Our 2 year old has hip dysplasia needs to wear a brace nightly and he even gets mad at me when it's been a few weeks and I'm putting the brace on he says to give it up for a little bit .
This article scares me to no end. He has threatened to take my girls if I leave him. Or at least split custody. Which would be terrible. If the courts don't see this behavior as abuse what's the point of leaving...I won't be able to protect them if I'm not there. Feeling so hopeless right now.

September, 11 2018 at 10:32 am

I am currently in an ongoing custody battle. My ex husband is an abusive narcissist. It has taken a while for me to truly understand the damage done. Now he is damaging our daughter. We have a son who is autistic and he has not even bothered trying to be involved in his life. He has been able to get temporary residential custody, stop paying child support for our son (he is 19 but in high school and dependent on me). I have been labelled with parental alienation and I am now lost. I have been cooperating in the hopes of peaceful resolution but it just continues to drag on and he continues to be given all the control. I am at a lost. He had all the finances in his name and left me unable to defend myself in the divorce. I don't know how he is getting away with it. I have proof that contradicts his narrative but no one is listening. He has even physically abused our daughter and her therapist swept it under the rug. She actually told my daughter that he probably had to do it. I don't know what to do at this point.

November, 28 2018 at 3:20 pm

I know n Florida you pay child support until the child turns 18 and is done with high school. but your son is 19 years old, by law he is an adult. This can't be true. what are the other facts?

Tasha Crawford
June, 1 2018 at 5:24 pm

"The real solution to this problem is not in changing the law, but in changing how seriously society views verbal abuse so that we, the public and the adult abused family members, can recognize signs of abuse and make changes to end the abuse sooner." Make changes to end the abuse sooner? Ex is verbally abusing my kids, it's not against the law, so I can't get full custody. He doesn't physically abuse them. I have no problem "recognizing the signs of abuse" So what other changes were you referring to? Sounds like you have no answer to me.

June, 2 2018 at 12:37 am

Making changes to end the abuse sooner means that we, as adults and parents, must do what we can within the present law to end the abuse. By ending the abuse, I mean that we should end the relationship so that our children have at least one healthy home to live in. When one parent is healing and providing a home of healing for the children, we can teach them ways to detach from and deal with the abusive parent in ways that are impossible when living in the same home. If we're lucky, we may find a partner who teaches children how to treat someone they love by example.
No answer is ideal when it comes to child abuse that the courts don't recognize.
In the UK, domestic violence law includes 'coercive control'. The law came about in the same year I wrote this post, although I didn't learn of it until reading Emma-Marie's post at… In her post, she says, "Although no such progress has been made in the US in terms of legislation, this is still a step in the right direction; it's the start of our cultures taking lesser-known forms of domestic violence more seriously and recognizing the devastating effects of verbal abuse (as well as other types of abuse)."
I wholeheartedly support legislation that lays out the formula for coercive control as a precursor to and part of domestic assault. The process of brainwashing and controlling a person could be legislated because even though verbal abuse is a part of coercive control, it is a very specific part. We could, I believe, outlaw the process of controlling another person without stepping on the Bill of Rights.
What do you think?

April, 14 2018 at 6:39 pm

This makes me sick. How is verbally abusing, controlling, and manipulating another person, not abuse? I can see if someone just curses a lot, ok that's not abuse. BUT, when it is specifically aimed at a person, alongside the control and minipulation, and happens on a daily basis, this gives it a new twist that isn't just free speech. I hope to God that when I go to court in a couple weeks for custody, that they don't look at all of my proof such as thousands of text messages, and police reports proving he minipulates and controls things, that my judge has an education on what abuse really is. My two oldest children are adults now and they dislike their father now that they have a choice, for all of the sadistic minipulation he used against our whole family, and for abusing their mother to the point that I had to leave the family home. It mentally ruined me. 6 years later I'm still screwed up from my marriage and now had a kid with another narcissist. My ex is constantly using any means he can to control and abuse me, like this custody battle for instance. I told him I was done with him for good, and made it clear. So now this.....he's been keeping my daughter from me for most of 2 or 3 months now and gets away with it. So clearly we need to do this custody thing, but he's been using my daughter as a pawn to get back at me, since day one. I think congress needs to hear about this from everyone that's been affected. Maybe then they'll see the gravity of the issue. Although many of them are the same way so they will attempt to protect themselves first.

March, 16 2018 at 5:01 pm

Wait, so how are hate speech laws any different? What changes can you expect to be made if verbally abusive behavior can't be punished despite early recognition?

November, 8 2017 at 6:03 am

My boyfriend is divorced and has 4 kids and he has custody. When the kids visit their mom. She and her boyfriend are constantly fighting and she throws things at him and he got mad and told the kids he does not care if they told their dad he'll beat up their dad. Their mom and the boyfriend both vape around the kids. She also tells one of her sons his teeth is ugly and needs to go see a dentist. She tells her daughter don't call me mom cause i'm not her mom. I've been there for her daughter since she was 1 and now she's 6. She even told her son not to play the clarinet because only girls play that instrument. She told the kids that they were poor at that time my boyfriend and kids have their own place and she was living with her parents.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 10 2017 at 8:44 pm

Lisa, your boyfriend's ex-wife sounds like a nightmare. She clearly has some very serious issues and I am so sad to hear about those kids being affected by her bad behavior. Being in the stepmom role can be so hard! I'm sure you feel so protective of your boyfriend and of those kiddos and yet you're in a helpless position at times, bless your heart for hanging in there. Those kids are lucky to have you.

July, 27 2017 at 1:37 pm

I easily said yes to all of these because my mom has verbally abuses my siblings and papa for the last couple years. She yells at us at least once a day for stuff we didn't do and if we defend yourself we get in even more trouble. She makes jokes about me that I have to laugh to even though I just want to rn out of the room and cry. As of now I am a closeted asexual and my brother was talking about homophobic/transphobic topics about my friends and when I defended my friend's I got yelled t for talking back. She yells at us most of the night so we barely get any sleep them yells at us for trying to sleep in the day. She has gone as far as to making fun of me to the point I was sobbing and talking about how I should be normal like other girls in my school and dress like them then proceeded to throw away any of my clothes which were not oink and girly.

July, 3 2017 at 2:51 pm

My children have had to endure his threats, manipulation, and verbal abuse for years. It is unfair anyone would compare the verbal abuse that follows a child around the rest of their lives with freedom of speech. I am currently in a horrible battle with my ex. We began recording the phone coversations he would have with the children. According to my attorney it is completely legal as long as one of the parties knows they are being recorded and I get to make that decision for my children, since they are minors. We also have a hard time getting an enforcement order doen. he brings the children home late, has them miss practices and other activities, and threatens constantly to get custody. At the end of the day the guilt I have for my poor children and seeing what they have to endure each and everyday. My ex is very wealthy so he uses money and material items against the children. I wish for one second the other parent would realize what he does will affect them the rest of their lives. The relationships they have with the opposite sex. I pray each and every night he finds peace and learns to love our children and put their needs above his own. It is frustrating that I can get no relief thru the court system.

mom of 2
May, 31 2017 at 2:12 am

This is total crap. when a spouse or ex-spouse does it its "verbal abuse" therfore free speech. but if a total stranger does it, it called bullying therefore harrasment therefore illegal. what kind of a** backwards society do we love in.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 9 2017 at 11:29 pm

You can call it free speech sure. It's a right we all have. But it is still considered bullying even though it is coming from a parent. It ruins a child's life and self esteem. I know this is cliché, but how would you feel if your parent does that to you and trust me, as a victim, it feels horrible. And by the way, there's something called autocorrect it's really helpful so next time you write a comment like this you could spell "live" correctly.

September, 23 2016 at 6:27 am

This is sad. going through a divorce. He has threaten to slap my daughter while she held our infant child. He does not care what comes out of his mouth to anyone. Behind closed doors he is a manipulative but when around others they think he is the nicest person on the Earth. Very scary how he has two faces. As I tell those he got me with his charm as well, then the representor left the scene.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 2 2017 at 11:49 am

I'm dealing with very similar situation. Have you found any answers or help? I have to find help- I agree, this "freedom of speech" cannot be where it ends.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 16 2017 at 9:14 am

We need to make this issue public. The time is right now with all the attention on abusers and how society allows them to get away with it for so long. I wrote a blog, using my own experience. I suggest people write their electeds and newspapers to make this a public safety issue impacting so many women and children.

September, 6 2016 at 11:19 am

This is an extremely difficult subject. As a survivor of emotional and verbal abuse (to the point where my life was threatened), I can tell you if there are children involved, it never ends. There is no protection for those who are emotionally and verbally assaulted and because it is not seen as domestic violence, victims continue to be abused after they have left their abusers. We are always waiting for the next barrage of crazy, the next set of threats, the next verbal slap in the face. It would be a God send to have some laws in place to help and protect those who continue to be victimized even after we have left! Leaving was terrifying, everyday is a battle, and the law does not recognize the threats and harassment I undergo as abuse...

Jen - Family Law
June, 25 2016 at 9:24 am

I couldn't agree more. This can be an unending debate between having verbal abuse and free speech but what is more important here is the welfare of the child. Since we cannot choose between the two, it is just right that we educate people, especially parents, of what is verbal abuse and what is not - to prevent it from happening. I believe parents can sometimes be verbally abusive without realizing it.

March, 28 2015 at 2:33 pm

My ex husband was a verbally abusive husband and parent. He used yhis abuse to manipulate my younger daughter into not keeping in contact with me. The judge hated women and ultimately gave my ex residential custody. Judges do not understand what verbal abuse can do you children. My ex was also an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser and the stupid judge Ronald Goldman, in ocean county nj granted him custodial custody! Gotta love this

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