Is your child being abused or neglected by your ex?
Many divorced parents feel they were victimized during their marriage. Perhaps the marriage was fraught with domestic violence. Maybe the other spouse was the more dominant personality and dictated the rules of the household. Once the marriage ends, the parties are free from the conduct of the other.
However, the children are typically compelled to have contact with both parents, as this contact is presumed to be in their best interests.
But what happens when a parent believes that the abusive conduct by their former spouse is now being directed at the children? When should the parent speak up? How can parents protect their children from maltreatment when the divorce judgments may compel parenting time?
Whenever a concern for child abuse and neglect arises, it is important that parents not over-react, but that they take measured action to ensure their child’s immediate safety, while not compromising evidence that will be needed to keep the child safe.
Following are seven tips parents can use to advance these dual objectives if their child is being abused by their ex.
1. Try not to jump to conclusions:
If you see changes in your child that indicate he or she may be abused or neglected, remain calm. As difficult as this may be, try not to assume abuse is occurring. The fact that you suffered at the hands of your former spouse does not automatically mean that your child is now the target in your stead. Sometimes, children express displeasure with their parents, not because they are being abused but because they are manipulating the situation, seeking attention or trying to ingratiate themselves into your good graces, knowing how you feel about their other parent.
2. Trust your instincts:
After carefully considering any subtle indications that suggest your child is being mistreated by the other parent, go with your gut. You witnessed your former spouse’s conduct during the marriage. You witnessed your child’s reaction to that conduct. Divorce and separation brings about different responses in children, but you never know when your child’s sudden bedwetting, nightmares, and academic decline could be a response to the divorce or when those behaviors are signs of something more.
3. Document behavioral changes:
Make sure to document your child’s behavioral changes from the time you recognize them. Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators and mental health professionals tend to rely heavily upon this information. Note the day, time and type of behavior you witness, in addition to its proximity to the child’s contact with the other parent.
4. Be careful of how you question your child:
If your child tells you he is being abused by the other parent, resist the temptation to question your child at length. Young children, in particular, can be highly susceptible to leading or suggestive questioning. Even if your questions are completely appropriate, attorneys, judges, CPS workers and your ex will undoubtedly question the authenticity of the disclosure if you engage her/him in discussion after the initial statement.
5. Be wary of making a referral to Child Protective Services:
Most states mandate that a referral be made to CPS as soon as there is a reason to believe that a child may be abused or neglected. Not every concerning statement must immediately compel a report. Understand that once you involve CPS in your family’s life, they will determine – not you – when and if they will exit. And, you may become the target of an investigation if CPS believes your report is not only inaccurate but orchestrated out of animus toward your ex.
6. Seek counseling for your child:
A mental health professional with experience in child maltreatment and separated families is of great value in these circumstances. A child therapist can help determine when your child’s behavior is indicative of abuse or trauma. If a referral then needs to be made to CPS, the therapist as a neutral advocate for the child can make the referral, deflecting the usual blame on you arising from alleged animus stemming from the divorce.
7. Consult a divorce attorney with experience with child abuse or neglect:
Many divorce attorneys handle child custody matters. However, when your child’s safety is on the line, you need a divorce attorney who also handles matters involving CPS. There is no guarantee that CPS will find that your child is abused or take action to protect her. A skilled attorney handling child abuse and neglect matters is best able to navigate the CPS investigation and to take immediate action to protect your child if CPS drops the ball.
Not every concern for your child is child abuse and neglect. As a parent, your job is to be vigilant to protect the interests of your child. Handling a disclosure from your child or signs of abuse exhibited by your child can be a daunting task. Trust your instincts, seek professional help and involve the proper authorities when you believe your child may be at risk.
More from DivorcedMoms