Going through divorce can be difficult for everyone involved. Some divorces are especially contentious, with one or both exes feeling resentful, bitter and angry. Sometimes in these situations, people go so far as to use the divorce process to get “revenge” against their ex. For example, they can falsely accuse their ex of committing domestic assault against them or their children.

A domestic violence accusation can mean more than criminal charges or a protection from abuse order against you. If you are in a child custody battle with your spouse, a claim against you can cost you both physical and legal custody of your children.

Physical vs. legal child custody

In a child custody contest, each parent must convince the judge that their preferred custody plan is in the children’s best interests. One parent’s accusation that the other is abusive to the kids can show that spending any time with that parent, even visitation time, is not safe. Things like a conviction on suspicion of domestic assault or a protection from abuse order in your past can be strong evidence against the accused parent, even if they were based on a false accusation.

Besides losing the legal ability to spend time with your children, you can also lose legal child custody. Legal custody refers to your right to help make important decisions about your children’s upbringing, like where they will go to school and who their doctor will be. Generally, the court will order the parents to share legal custody, even when the judge grants sole physical custody to one parent. But in cases of alleged domestic abuse, the judge may decide to give sole physical and legal custody to the parent making the accusation.

Don’t lose your legal rights to a lie

That means your reaction to an arrest on domestic assault charges can be critical to your parental rights. Pleading guilty just to avoid a trial can have serious implications for your family life.