Battered Women Before the Court ~ What’s a Mother To Do?

18th November 2021

By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

When battered mothers stand before the court, there are multiple considerations for seeking divorce resolution. How do we bring this to an end as expeditiously as is possible? How can you best protect the interest of your children? And last but not least, what must be done to keep you safe from further assault from your soon-to-be ex?

Unfortunately, as with many life decisions, accomplishing all three goals poses a delicate balance given the possible solutions available. Here are some of the options and implications many battered women face in family court.

Middle of the Road

Mediating a 50/50 (or shared custody) agreement on the surface appears to be the fairest and easiest outcome. But, appearances can be misleading when it comes to domestic violence divorce.

It is common understanding in the industry that joint custody is not a recommended option for couples in abusive relationships. The ongoing back-and-forth and potential for continuous negotiation lends itself to manipulation, intimidation and continuous leveraging for abusive control. As you might expect, this suspends the battered mother (or abused father) in the domestic abuse dynamic and exposes the children to ongoing battering and domestic violence.

Go For It All

Litigating for sole custody might then appear to be the best next option. However, this requires significant financial resources and immense emotional fortitude. Moreover, there is the risk of losing it all in one’s effort to gain it all.

Let’s face it, successful litigation is fundamentally about strategic control…and as we know, so is domestic violence. Violence may be a manifestation of domestic abuse, but the domestic violence syndrome is essentially about control. And the perpetrator can’t bear to be out of control.

It is for this reason that battered mothers shy away from sole custody. They fear that if the abusive partner is not abusing them in court, they will find a way to destroy them on the street.

This is not to say that under certain circumstances, seeking sole custody is clearly the best option for many battered mothers. Our discussion is merely to reflect on what you may already be mulling over in your own mind, as you navigate your domestic violence divorce.

Flee and Disappear

Exiting all together is usually one’s last resort and typically happens when you know you are in imminent danger. Battered mothers have elected to travel this path when no other options appear viable to them.

Typically, it happens when there is the real and immediate threat of their losing basic human rights. For example: the right to freedom, the right to work…the right to mental health.

These divorce litigants have usually been in the system for years fighting for their right to protect and parent their children. And then, they recognize that continuing the battle will cost them criminalization, incarceration, psychiatric institutionalization, bodily autonomy and ultimately their ability to sustain a livelihood and maintain their basic physical, mental and psychological wellbeing.

So they flee to avert the continuation of destruction and this ultimate demise. In the course of their exile, they hold the prayer and flame of re-unification with their children.

Hold On and Wait It Out

Sometimes doing nothing on the surface does everything in the long run. Many people elect to do nothing but hang on and hold out as long as the money will allow. It keeps them in status quo, which typically means in contact with their children.

Often they are under a temporary custody order in which the children live with them in part or full-time, while having partial parental decision-making and authority. The downside of this option for many people is that it keeps them hanging in the wind at the mercy of attorneys in legal domestic warfare.

There are no right or wrong choices here. Each of the options has value and cost. No one can tell you what is best for you. The only one who holds this wisdom is YOU.

I encourage battered mothers to settle into quietude and reflect on each scenario feeling it as though it is happening. In this silent sacred space amidst all of that information, one will invariably be guided toward the correct decision for them.

For information on legal domestic abuse, visit Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps individuals and couples worldwide recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse.

For a wealth of information and real-life insights on abusive relationships, visit and start your Free 7-day trial today. Inner Sanctuary Online is designed to help you with the challenges of abusive relationships, from identifying them to influencing change within them to healing during and after them.

© Dr Jeanne King — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention