On December 1, 2012, then-Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, in the couple’s home, then drove to the team’s practice facility and killed himself. Now, Belcher’s mother and Perkins’ family are embroiled in a custody dispute over the couple’s four-month-old daughter, Zoey.
Sadly, domestic violence is growing more common – perpetrators of domestic violence cause more than 100 deaths per year just in Arizona, 60-80% of which involve firearms. According to an Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence (AZCADV) press release issued just after the Kansas City murder-suicide, domestic violence is “a pattern of behavior used by one partner to exert power and control over the other.” The AZCADV correctly describes domestic violence as taking many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse. Domestic violence plays a significant role in family courts – results in dissolution actions and custody hearings can change dramatically if one of the parties is an abuser.
In Arizona, A.R.S. § 25-403.03 establishes a rebuttable presumption that joint legal decision-making (custody) of a child cannot be awarded if there is a history of significant domestic violence perpetrated by one of the parties. Overcoming this presumption against joint legal decision making when a parent has displayed a history of abuse can be a tall order.
As far as Zoey’s placement is concerned, Belcher’s history of domestic violence does not play such a direct role in any custody determination. For young children who have experienced domestic violence or whose parents were killed, psychologists typically recommend stability. Zoey had already spent significant time with Belcher’s mother before the murder, so leaving the child in her custody would make sense.
Perkins’ family recently took Zoey to Texas to attend her mother’s funeral, however, and several news outlets report that they have since refused to return her to Belcher’s mother’s care as they prepare to sue for custody.