Regardless of your stance on gun rights or your comfort level with guns, all parents worry about their children having access to firearms. If you are going through a separation or divorce, you might be concerned about whether any firearms at your ex’s home are secured away from the children. Or you might worry that the judge will question your judgment or parenting because you keep firearms in your own home. If you own guns, you might wonder whether you should get rid of them or whether they might impact your custody case.
First of all, in cases where domestic violence is alleged and a protective order is issued, the Court will often order the defendant to surrender his or her guns to the Sheriff. Even when violence is not an issue, however, the Court may take gun ownership and safety into consideration in determining custody issues. As you have probably heard if you have ever talked to a lawyer about a custody case, the Court’s sole concern in determining child custody is what is in the best interest of the child. The presence of firearms in the child’s environment is therefore certainly within the purview of the Court.
While safe firearm ownership and storage may be of interest to the Court, there is case law that suggests that the Court must make findings that the parent’s gun ownership specifically endangers the child in some way in order for the Court to factor it into a custody determination. If a witness testifies, for example, that Mom routinely leaves her loaded handgun unattended in her purse or under her pillow where her child could find it, the Court may find that she is endangering her child and order her to either secure her weapon or surrender it until her child reaches 18. On the other hand, a mom who owns numerous firearms, but is vigilant about keeping them properly secured and beyond the reach of her children, is unlikely to be negatively affected in a custody case. Since the judge’s chief concern is always the safety and well-being of the children, a parent who shows the Court that she is a safe and responsible firearm owner probably has little cause for concern about being a gun owner who is involved in a custody case.
It is, of course, wise if you are in a custody dispute, to ensure that all of your firearms and permits are properly documented and updated and that you can provide the Court with evidence (such as photos, testimony of friends, or receipts for gun safes) that your firearms are securely stored in your home. If you anticipate that this will be an issue in your case, discuss it with your attorney early so that you can plan to resolve any concerns of the Court and ensure that your gun ownership does not interfere with your custody case.