What to Do If You Suspect Your Ex-Spouse of Child Abuse

One of the most challenging situations a person can find themselves in is suspecting that an ex-spouse is abusing their child. If you’re confronting this issue, you probably feel scared and lost.

When you share custody and parenting time, it can often feel like you’re only getting part of the story. And if your child is too young, or too scared to speak up, it can be difficult to determine what exactly is going on.

In this blog post we’ll address what actions you may consider when confronting this difficult situation.

What Steps Should You Take to Combat an Ex’s Child Abuse?

How you should proceed will be guided by how certain you are that abuse is occurring. Initial steps may involve speaking with your lawyer, speaking with your child, and having your child evaluated by a pediatrician to gather information and next steps.

If you have good cause to believe child abuse is occurring, then you will need to move forward. If a court later determines that you knew of abuse and did not act, your custody could be revoked.

California’s Child Protective Services (“CDSS”) is often the first resource to utilize if you suspect child abuse or neglect by your ex. They provide a twenty-four-hour emergency response number that you may use. In an emergency you may also want to reach out to local law enforcement.

If you are not confronting an immediate emergency, however, then you should perhaps discuss this matter with a lawyer before proceeding. You don’t want to (inadvertently) falsely accuse anyone of such serious charges, and once CDSS is involved it will impact both you and your ex in various ways. Your lawyer can discuss the potential repercussions of each step you are considering and walk you through the options specific to your case. Such as how child abuse may be proven in a court of law.

How is Child Abuse Proven?

It’s unlikely that you alone will be able to prove child abuse. The CDSS, local law enforcement, and the court system are all better equipped to investigate and determine whether child abuse occurred. That said, there are certain signs of child abuse you may be on the lookout for, which could include:

  • Frequent and often unexplained injuries, bruising, etc.
  • Child acting withdrawn
  • Child flinching at sudden movements
  • Child acting watchful or “overly alert.”

As stated above, you may want to first have your child examined by a pediatrician. As a parent of a young child, you know that children may be injured or bruised even absent abuse because of their active lifestyles. A pediatrician or other medical provider may have a better understanding of the underlying injuries and their causes.

If child abuse is ultimately proven, then it may change many of the terms of your divorce agreement. Custody, child support, and the like may all be modified.

Impact of Ex Child Abuse on Custody

California family courts operate on the basic principle of protecting minor children. Custody arrangements must therefore protect the “best interests” of the children in the state. A child has a right to reside in a safe environment, absent any abuse or neglect.

To that end, if California Child Protective Services or a family court judge find that your ex has abused your child, then your custody and visitation time schedule may be modified. Depending on what exactly is found, your ex may temporarily or permanently lose custody. Their parenting time may also be reduced or modified so that they are only allowed supervised parenting time—often supervised by a third party.

When custody or parenting time is reduced, the amount of child support you are entitled to may increase. That is because child support guidelines are partially based on the amount of overnight parenting time each parent will have.

You should discuss these issues with your lawyer at the time you discuss your suspicion of abuse.

Your Orange County Attorneys

If you’re confronting these types of issues in Orange County or surrounding locales, call (949) 565-4158 or complete an online contact form to schedule a consultation with Burch Shephard Family Law Group. We are a compassionate and specialized law firm with more than one hundred years of combined family law experience.

We look forward to discussing your important family law issues.