If you truly fear for your children’s safety, you must speak up about your concerns. But know upfront that there could be repercussions. Let’s take a closer look.
Legitimate Concerns About Safety
If you fear that your ex is a danger to you or your children, the court will treat the issue as a legitimate and serious concern. In general, judges are careful to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse, threats of violence, and any form of domestic violence before making a child custody determination. This also means that before granting custody or visitation rights to your ex, the judge will likely investigate the allegations to make sure you are not making them up. Family protective services may also become involved to help the investigation. The court and/or child protective services may contact your neighbors, extended family members, and even your children’s teachers in an attempt to verify your story.
During the investigation, the judge may allow the accused parent to spend time with your children. In some cases, visits may be supervised or take place in a neutral setting to ensure the children’s safety.
What To Do If Your Child Is In An Unsafe Home
Divorce has turned into a part of life for many people and seems to be a developing pattern. As a divorced dad, it is your duty to ensure that your children are provided with stability and a safe home. Most would like to believe that their children will be completely safe with the other parent after a separation, but unfortunately that is not always the case. If your previous relationship was bad or if someone else has come into the life of your child, it’s common to be worried about your child’s safety and living conditions. So how are you to handle a situation where you do not think that your children are in a safe environment?
Understanding What Is A Truly Unsafe Environment
After a divorce, tensions run high and are only aggravated when it comes to child custody issues. Sometimes heightened stress and emotions can make a person think there are safety issues everywhere when it comes to their ex having their child. Households that are disorderly or allow the children to engage in activities involving sports in which they could get injured will not qualify as being an unsafe environment.
An unsafe environment that poses threats for your children and are instances where a court will step-in include:
• Physical abuse to intentionally harm the child’s body or mind
• Neglecting the child by failing to give them what he/she needs
• Failure to supply enough food or appropriate medical care
• Failure to keep firearms out of reach
• Use of illegal drugs by members of the child’s household
• Domestic violence to the child or another household member
• Sexual contact with child
Actions to Take
Sometimes men feel that they can provide their own safety and security without legal assistance, but doing this can end up intensifying the situation. If you feel that your child is being exposed to these situations, requesting an emergency motion to suspend time-sharing is opportune. This means you need to file a petition with the clerk of court and request an emergency hearing. Not until your motion is heard can you deny time-sharing with the other parent. If the violence is being solely directed towards your child, then you may call for a petition for an injunction prohibiting the other parent from seeing the child temporarily until the conditions improve.
A protection order can be placed and will provide a restraining order against any parties that could harm your child. What this does is issue a court order that restricts the wrongful conduct and actions of a person who has allegedly been violent or made threats of violence against another person. Unless your child is over the age 18, you would be the petitioner filing a protection order from violent threats from the respondent. When the court grants the petition and issues a protective order, it will place certain restrictions on the respondent. These restrictions include:
• Respondent cannot have any form of contact with the petitioner.
• Respondent can be ordered to leave the house or apartment that you share, even if it is under the respondent’s name.
• Respondent can be ordered to pay for the costs that resulted from the abuse (i.e. medical expenses, moving expenses).
• Respondent has to stay a certain distance from petitioner’s home and other places where petitioner frequents.
If the restrictions are violated, the petitioner can call the police and press criminal charges. Choosing to go this route requires you to present specific evidence of harm that has occurred in the past or of the threats that have been made for future harm. To guarantee ultimate protection for your child, you may need an order of protection.
Accused of Making False Accusations
You can take several steps to support your case if your ex accuses you of making false allegations. If your ex has physically or emotionally abused you or your child in the past, you should make sure you have documentation detailing the events.
This may include police reports, medical records, or testimony from people that know you and can speak about the abuse. If your child visited a doctor or therapist to treat symptoms of the abuse, obtain records of these visits to show to the judge.
If your child continues to exhibit symptoms of abuse or trauma, you should take your child to a therapist or mental health professional to undergo an evaluation. The therapist will review your child’s case and can present an expert opinion to support your claim.
In disputed cases before a judge, the judge may order another therapist to evaluate your child to get a second opinion. Unfortunately, this means your child may be subjected to multiple evaluations and interviews to verify the abuse or harm.
Call Child Protective Services
Each county and jurisdiction has an agency in place to intervene in cases when there is suspected child abuse or neglect. Once a call is made to the office of Child Protective Services (CPS), the matter is assigned to a case worker whose job it is to investigate the claim of abuse or neglect. If there is a finding of abuse or neglect, the case worker, on behalf of the government, can initiate a court case. The CPS case worker may contact extended family members, neighbors, and teachers in order to find enough evidence to determine whether a case should be opened. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, CPS could restrict or suspend your ex’s access to your child. One downside of this process, however, is that it often takes weeks or months to complete the investigation, and there is no guarantee that the findings will be favorable to you and your child.
Motion For Emergency Relief
Whether you have an existing custody order or parenting agreement, or whether there has never been anything formally decided, a third way to get protections is by filing a motion for emergency relief. You can also file for emergency relief if there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm to your minor child. If you have evidence of abuse, then you are able to quickly get before a judge who can grant relief. It is best to hire a qualified attorney who will prepare the appropriate pleadings, raise the relevant issues, and present the facts in a way that will be most convincing to the judge. This process could be longer than the first two processes discussed, but the relief will be longer lasting than a protection order.
Is Your Ex Turning Your Child Against You?
When one parent purposefully poisons their child against the other parent, the term used is parental alienation or malicious parent syndrome. The parent may attempt to convince their child:
• They aren’t safe when they are with their other parent;
• The other parent is tired of them;
• The other parent will have harsh restrictions on their activities;
• The other parent replaced them with a new child or new family;
• Their other parent doesn’t loves them.
Parental alienation can be something small, like telling a child to call to check in with one parent during visitation with the other parent. The message being sent to the child is that the one parent cannot be trusted to take care of them. But parental alienation can be on a larger scale, where one parent is specifically telling the child that the other parent no longer loves them.
While the most typical cases of parental alienation are by biological parents, stepparents can also cause alienation of the other parent. When trying to build a relationship with the child, a stepparent could alienate the parent intentionally or unintentionally. Is does not matter if the alienation was intentional or unintentional, it could have a serious negative impact on your custody case. Parental alienation by a parent or stepparent will always have a negative impact on your child.
The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was coined by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985. His belief was that parents were purposefully sabotaging their child’s relationship with their other parent and as a result, the child exhibited behaviors that could be observed. According to Gardner, PAS was almost exclusively seen in situations where parents were in the process of divorcing and fighting over custody of the child. He believed that one parent would brainwash the child against their other parent, eventually leading the child to also vilify the parent.
Garner developed his theory based on children he was seeing in his private practice where he was concerned about the number of cases he had with allegations of child sexual abuse that were untrue. Garner believed that mothers were most likely to be brainwashing their child when they are the custodial parent. He also believed that the mothers were convincing their children that their fathers had sexually abused them.
Over the years, Gardner published numerous books and articles about this theory regarding PAS, custody fights, and the ramifications on the children. Gardner has been called to testify as an expert in more than 400 child custody cases, has developed coping strategies for PAS, and even created a board game for children whose parents are going through a divorce. Despite all this, Gardner’s theory has been highly criticized.
The Legal Consequences Of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation, despite not being a legitimate disorder, is a factor in custody fights. Evidence can be presented in court about parental alienation to explain a child’s behaviors, their testimony, and to paint the parent alienating the child in a negative light.
When making a determination about custody, the judge looks at the best interest of the child. When evidence is presented in court showing that one parent is alienating the child from their other parent, the judge would typically rule that it is not in the best interest of the child to remain in the care of a parent who is manipulating them.
What do you have to show the court? Witnesses that would be able to testify to the changes in your child’s relationship and attitudes toward you, a therapist that agrees your child has been alienated from you, or any other pieces of evidence that might show parental alienation. In one case, a parent had listed their new spouse as the parent on school paperwork. The judge in that case felt that the paperwork was compelling enough to make a determination that parental alienation was happening.
Malicious Parent Syndrome
This is when one parent seeks to punish the other parent by talking poorly about them and/or doing things to place the parent in a bad light, particularly in the eyes of their children. Another common term for this behavior is “parental alienation syndrome.”
Malicious Parent Syndrome in Divorce Cases
It’s common knowledge how difficult and stressful the divorce process can be for all parties. It can especially be so for parents who are worried about how the experience will affect their relationship with their children. Many individuals going through a divorce show negative or destructive emotions against their spouses such as resentment, anger, rage, antagonism, and a desire to “get even” for the wrongs they feel they have endured.
These emotions can lead to destructive behavior involving the use of their children in a legal war against their spouse regarding custody and divorce. When this behavior extends to actions designed to harm the other spouse’s relationship with the children or to harm their standing in the community, it is referred to a “malicious parent syndrome.”
Malicious Parent Syndrome Behavior
Malicious parent syndrome is not a mental disorder that is recognized as an actual psychiatric condition by professionals. Instead, it is a label that came about from a psychologist who wished to describe a certain destructive pattern of behavior on the part of one parent towards the other during divorce proceedings. The behavior involved the parent behaving in a purposeful way that was vengeful toward the other parent, often extending to even breaking the law to further the goal of destroying the parent-child relationship and/or punishing of the other parent.
The types of behavior that a malicious parent may engage in can include:
• Denying regular or uninterrupted visitation on the part of the other parent
• Denying phone access between the child and the other parent
• Denying the other parent access or participation in the child’s school or extra-curricular events
• Lying to the child about the other parent which involve accusations designed to sway the child against the other parent
• Lying to other people about the other parent to denigrate his or her reputation or perception by them
• Actually violating the law, such as refusing to obey a custody court order
• Engaging in endless litigation to punish the other parent
• In the most extreme cases, causing some kind of actual harm or deprivation to a child for which the other parent will be blamed
• In other extreme cases, engaging in actions to damage the other parent’s property or causing him or her some type of physical harm
These types of behaviors are an obvious violation against the child’s best interests, which is generally viewed by the courts and professionals as a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents for optimum child development. Damaging a child’s relationship with a parent can cause obvious psychological harm to a child that can have long-lasting effects, even into adulthood.
Finding Legal Assistance
If you are feeling like your child’s well-being is threatened or abused in any way, finding the legal support you need to protect your loved ones is essential. There are many instances in which a child would be better cared for under guardianship of a father that can provide a safe and stable home environment as opposed to a mother who is not fulfilling her parental duties. It is your right as a father to spend time with your children and make sure they are protected.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506