By Jennifer M. Paine
Divorced dads fearing for their children’s safety when in the care of their ex-wife have more options than they think.
You are not limited to living with this problem or making reports to Child Protective Services. You have several options, either or all of which you can use if you have a legitimate fear and actual evidence that your ex is abusing your children.
1. Continue CPS Reports
Where I practice, CPS agencies in each county maintain a database known as the “Central Registry.” The database contains reports of child abuse and neglect and the status of each report, i.e. whether CPS substantiated the report, closed the file, sent the case to the prosecutor, etc.
It is important to keep this registry accurate so that CPS can chart a history of abuse and neglect. Therefore, anytime you suspect child abuse or neglect and you suspect it legitimately, you should make a report.
If you have no legitimate basis for the report, however, you will commit a crime. False reports are crimes.
So be sure you have a basis to make the report. If you fail to make a report when you have a basis for it, however, CPS could accuse you of child abuse and neglect in the future.
Where I practice, it is not uncommon for CPS agencies to name the perpetrator for the abuse or neglect and the other parent for “failure to protect,” which is also actionable as abuse and neglect.
2. Call the Police
This goes without saying, I suspect. If your ex is harming your children, make a police report. Child abuse and neglect is not only a basis to terminate parental rights, it is a crime.
3. Protective Orders
If you have documentary or witness evidence to support your allegations of child abuse and neglect (e.g.s, pictures of bruising, people who will testify that they saw your ex hit your children), consider a protective order to keep your ex from your children pending a modification of your parenting time and child custody order.
4. Friend of the Court Services
As part of the federal Social Security Act, Title IV-D program, local agencies must provide parents with alternative dispute resolution, mediation, parenting referees, and the like.
Each county uses a different label for these services, but, essentially, they are informal dispute resolution services that allow parents to work out their disagreements without going through a child custody trial.
5. Motion to Modify Custody
By statute where I practice, you can request a modification of custody and parenting time for “proper cause” or a “substantial change in circumstance” since the last order.
“Proper cause” should be related to one of the best interest of the child factors, and “change in circumstances” should be relevant to the sum total of them. Consult a divorce attorney to learn what motion procedures you will need to follow.
By explaining these options, I do not recommend that you select any of them. Do not act until you have discussed your case and your options thoroughly with a divorce lawyer, as you could jeopardize your own rights or commit a crime if you act without an attorney’s legal advice.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.