What to Do When You Have Proof of Child Abuse or Child Neglect by the Other Parent
UPDATED: April 10, 2020
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If you have proof that someone else is abusing or neglecting your child, you need to take immediate action to stop the child abuse or child neglect. This is especially true if the person who is abusing or neglecting your child is your former spouse or legal domestic partner. Unless you have full custody, you will likely want to ask for a modification of the existing custody arrangement. The laws regarding child abuse and child neglect vary between states. The processes of reporting and investigating child abuse and neglect vary between states as well. Consult an experienced divorce or family law attorney who is licensed in your state about claiming child abuse and child neglect in a custody fight.
Collect Evidence to Back Up Your Claim of Child Abuse or Child Neglect
Many parents come to divorce or family court with a claim that the other parent has committed an act of child abuse or neglect. Child abuse is treated more seriously than child neglect. This is usually because child neglect is harder to prove. Typically, the court attempts to utilize photographs or mental health records of the child to make a finding that child abuse has occurred. If you make a claim that your child has been subjected t child abuse or child neglect, collect evidence that you will seek to admit to court to back up your claim.
Do not think you are alone in dealing with this issue. You may want to seek the help of a support group or a professional psychologist. They can give you some advice on how to best work with the state agencies, court system, and law enforcement officers in your local area.
Evaluate the Credibility of Your Information Before Making Child Abuse and Child Neglect Accusations
Before you make an allegation regarding child abuse or neglect, examine your source. Is it a friend? A neighbor? Your child’s teacher? Your child? Evaluate how your source came about their information. Determine whether they have a motive to make a claim. If you are the party who has the information, go over what you know with your attorney. They will help you evaluate whether a reasonable person with no bias would also find that abuse or neglect occurred.
It is important to look at the accuracy of your information and the bias of your sources. You can be sued for making false allegations. If the court finds that abuse or neglect did not take place, your former spouse or partner could sue you for defamation or slander. Defamation is the publishing of a false, injurious statement against a person. Slander refers specifically to a transitory statement, such as a verbal accusation, that falls into this category. When you speak to an experienced divorce or family court attorney, they will examine the circumstances of your case. They can advise you on how best to protect yourself.
Take Action to Stop Further Child Abuse or Child Neglect
If you have determined that you need to report possible child abuse or child neglect, first locate your child. If you believe that a neglectful or abusive person has your child, call law enforcement. If you do not, the situation may not be interpreted as dire. Explain to the police officers or sheriff’s deputies what you think has happened. State that the child needs to be taken out of the neglectful or abusive adult’s care immediately. When you call law enforcement, an officer should come to the caretaker’s home and check out the situation. You may end up with the child in your care within 24-48 hours at an emergency hearing.
Your second action may be to call the appropriate state department which deals with child abuse and neglect. Consider doing this anonymously. This department usually goes by the name of the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Children and Family Services, or the Department of Human Services. Explain to a hotline worker what you believe to be taking place. They will start investigating the matter.
Whenever you call a law enforcement officer or a person who works for a state agency, write down what transpired in a journal. Note when you called, the names of the people to whom you spoke, and what happened in the conversation. You may be asked to testify in court later regarding these conversations.
Seek Help From a Divorce Lawyer to Make or Modify Your Custody Agreement
Your third step will likely be to go to divorce or family court. Work with your attorney to ask for a custody agreement which takes into account the likely abuse or neglect. You may already have an existing custody agreement. In this case, you will want to move to modify this agreement.
As you wait for your divorce or family court proceeding to occur, your former spouse or legal domestic partner may face criminal charges for their alleged conduct. If the prosecutor asks you to be a State’s witness, talk over the consequences of this with your attorney. Your testimony may cause your former spouse or legal domestic partner to suffer serious consequences, such as criminal convictions, high fines, and incarceration.
Determining how to proceed when you believe child abuse or neglect to have occurred is not easy. You are balancing your child’s welfare against your own liability. Stay in close contact with your attorney to get the best result for your child and yourself.