I Suspect My Ex-Spouse is Abusing My Child – What Can I Do?

We have had cases where there is a visitation order in place, say every other weekend and one day a week.  Somewhere along the line, the child starts to report strange things, such as verbal, physical, or even sexual abuse, from the other parent or someone in their household.  I can just imagine that moment of fear, panic, and ultimately helplessness as you soon realize that getting anyone to believe you or your child is virtually impossible.

The biggest problem is hearsay.  Hearsay is when you report or testify what someone else told you, and not something you observed or heard first-hand.  If that person is your spouse, the courts would allow it as an exception.  However, if you heard the information from your child, the court will consider those statements as hearsay.

One way to get around the hearsay is if the statements concern abuse, and there is sufficient collaboration that the statements are true.  One suggestion would be to have the child report the abuse to his or her pediatrician or therapist.  Judges would trust their words over the parent who may have an interest in restricting visitation out of spite for their ex.  Secondly, take the child to the emergency room so that a physician can examine for any physical signs of abuse and can make informed deductions as to whether any physical or sexual abuse occurred.  If the abuse is verbal or emotional, the therapist could testify as to the effects of the abuse and his or her conclusion as to whether the other parent is abusive.

Another suggestion would be to call DCFS.  Again, if the therapist or physician is the reporter, there is more credibility.  DCFS goes through its own procedures and investigations, and they are more relaxed on the hearsay rules.  In my experience, almost everything is admitted in a DCFS hearing so long as the administrative judge feels it is somewhat relevant to the proceedings.  As such, if your evidence is not enough to sustain criminal charges or for an order of protection, it may be enough for an indicated finding of abuse through DCFS.  An indicated finding with DCFS will prevent that person from working with children in the future.

In the end, if you truly believe your child, you should fight for your child not only to protect your child but any other children who could possibly be affected in the future.  Keep in mind the effects of false allegations of abuse not only on your ex but also your child.  Do not coach your child on what to say or try to keep their story straight.  Children are often inconsistent in their statements, and its understandable.  But coaching not only takes away from your child’s credibility and yours, but also perpetuates the abuse by ingraining in your child that he or she has been abused.  As such, the best practice is to contact the child’s physician or therapist and let them proceed accordingly based on their experience.

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