Update

A child custody agreement signed by Mel Gibson and his girl friend Oksana Grigorieva in May 2010 gave Gibson joint custody of their daughter. Shortly after that, Grigorieva reportedly rejected the agreement. She said she didn’t know it gave Gibson unsupervised visits with the child.

However, a document posted by TMZ shows the couple spelled out in great detail the days and times that Gibson had physical custody of the baby. When the child turns three, Gibson gets physical custody of the child at least half of every week.

The custody agreement includes a crossed-out holiday schedule. It was apparently a dispute over the Father’s Day visit that sent Gibson over the edge into his abusive telephone rant.

Original Article

Child custody disputes can be bitter, hard-fought battles. Typically, each parent wants to have as much time as possible with the child and make life decisions for her, such as where she'll go to school. Unfortunately, sometimes parents get nasty, and it's not good for the child or for the parents.

Lessons from Hollywood

Early in July 2010, a tape recording of a telephone call reportedly between actor Mel Gibson and his singer-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva hit the internet and television airwaves. In the call, Gibson lashes out at Grigorieva, using racial slurs, wishing her harm, and even threatening her life.

At about the same time of this incident, the local sheriff's office began an investigation of domestic violence - Grigorieva claims Gibson physically abused her.

The couple has been battling over custody of their eight-month-old daughter since April 2010. And now, with the telephone conversation and domestic violence charges, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is ready to investigate whether the child is in danger and should be placed into protective services.

The Child Is First

When it comes to custody matters, parents can come up with a custody agreement and it's usually accepted by the courts. Or, if they can't come up with an agreement, a court will settle the matter and decide the custody and visitation issues. In either case, the overriding consideration is the child's best interests: Where and with whom will the child be safe, loved, and well-cared for?

There's no room for abusive behavior by a parent before, during, or after a child custody case. If a parent is abusive to the child, courts and judges can't and won't award custody to that parent. If a parent is abusive to the other parent, it's also very unlikely the abuser will be awarded custody. In fact, an abusive parent's visitation rights may be severely restricted.

Even after a custody case ends, courts have the power to change or modify custody and visitation rights, and typically they're quick to act when a parent is abusive. Again, it's all about the child's safety and well-being.

Other Concerns

There are other concerns, too. When things become violent, the abuser may face criminal charges and a possible fine, jail time, or both. Also, the victim may sue the abuser for money damages for her injuries and medical bills. And, like the Gibson-Grigorieva case shows, both parents may lose in the end if the child is removed from their homes.

In the Gibson-Grigorieva case, it remains to be seen how the court will react. It's certain, though, the whole state of affairs will impact both parents' custody and visitation rights. Legal action against Gibson may be inevitable, too.

If not for purely selfish reasons - looking "good" for the judge - or purely legal reasons - child and spousal abuse is illegal and isn't tolerated - consider the child. She needs and deserves to have both parents in her life and to be safe and cared for. Parents need to remember that and work for that goal, and if they do, custody cases can be a brand new beginning for everyone.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I gather proof of abuse by spouse or partner?
  • Do I have to honor a visitation agreement if I have reason to believe my ex-spouse or -partner is abusing our child?
  • Do we need a lawyer to write a custody and visitation agreement?

Tagged as: Family Law, Child Custody, custody battle, best practices