The Most Important Warning Signs a Custody Battle Could Turn Violent

It was one of the most tragic stories we heard this week: a father threw his 3-year-old son off of the roof of a building and then followed. He and his wife were reportedly involved in a bitter custody battle over the child and it has since been revealed that dad Dmitriy Kanarikov had been verbally abusive in the past. According to ex-wife Svetlana, who now must deal with the death of her little boy, Dmitriy once threatened to take their son away if he didn't get everything he wanted in the divorce and even went as far as saying Svetlana would "shoot herself from grief." But, perhaps because their toddler always seemed happy after his visits with dad and there was never any sign of child abuse, Svetlana didn't see this coming. Who could?

We spoke with Dr. Judith A. Myers-Walls, a Certified Family Life Educator and Professor Emerita at Purdue University, who provided warning signs if you suspect your spouse is capable of violence and tips on how to handle a bitter custody battle.


Myers-Walls stresses that, as much as we'd like to prevent all bad things from happening to our family, some things are just not possible to predict and control. With that said, if a spouse is actually abusing a child, some signs include:

The parent does not seem to understand normal child development and expects too much too soon or too little too late.

The parent relies heavily on physical punishment.

He or she was abused him or herself as a child.

The parent is under very high levels of stress.

The parent has difficulty feeling attachment to a child.

"In this case, however, I do not believe the parent was trying to hurt the child," Myers-Walls says of the Kanarikov family. "I believe he was either thinking that if he couldn’t have the child, no one could, or maybe he was afraid that his ex-spouse would hurt the child."

The expert also suggests that the dad's faith may have played a role in his decision -- perhaps he believed he and his son would now exist together forever in an afterlife. 

Myers-Walls says signs that a parent could hurt a child during a divorce are seen in the couple more than in the individual parent. 

She says that parents who are divorcing often forget about the child’s well-being. Children can become tools for parents to feel powerful in the failed relationship or to get back at the other parent. She reminds us that it is critical for parents to become aware of the effect of divorce on children and to try to make decisions that will be good for the child, not just for one parent or the other.

Given this information, it's clear that threats like those Dmitriy reportedly made to his wife = possible warning signs. 

Myers-Walls' number one tip for parents going through a nasty divorce and custody battle is to use a mediator to help with the custody and dissolution decisions and/or to enlist the assistance of a guardian-ad-litem. She also recommends divorce education programs, which are actually mandated by certain states and counties. 

The bottom line is: children and their needs must remain the focus in any divorce. If you find that you or your spouse are unable to put personal needs second, seek help so that your child doesn't suffer.

Have you dealt with divorce and custody issues? What was your experience like? 


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