One of the hardest things as a divorced/separated parent is knowing or suspecting that your child is being abused while visiting the other parent. You may know something is going on with your child, but if you cannot prove it, what do you do?
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You Need Some Kind of Evidence
The rules do not allow you to introduce what your child says to you unless there is “corroborating evidence.”
What exactly is that?
If your child says that a person hit her in the eye and the child has a black eye, then the black eye can corroborate the statement. If there is no corroboration, then the statement does not come into evidence.
When there is psychological trauma to your child, you will likely need the assistance of a therapist to get this information before the court. You still have the hearsay problem, but at least a medical professional is assessing your child. One problem parents face when they suspect abuse, is to start questioning the child. If you do this, you will most likely sabotage any hope you have of proving abuse.
Why is it Wrong to Talk to My Child About the Neglect or Abuse?
For one thing, you do not know how to do it properly. When you are questioning the child, you have to be careful of assuming facts that the child did not say, or contaminating their statements. For instance, if your child told you that she was hit in the face, and you follow up with “when did daddy hit you?” you just interjected a fact that the child did not say. The child never said her dad did it, and by automatically jumping to that conclusion, you have skewed the statement.
There are trained professionals that know how to properly question children and you are best leaving that to a professional so you do not get a statement from your child that is inaccurate.
What Can I Do if I Suspect Child Abuse?
Do I have to Send My Child on Her Parenting Time?
If there is a court order for visitation, you have to comply with the court order. If you withhold visitation and violate the parenting agreement, you could be subject to sanctions. You would need to address the allegations of abuse with the court and attempt to get a different order, otherwise, the court order must be obeyed. To protect children who are being abused, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides specific remedies to either remedy the situation until a more definitive determination can be made by the court.
Section 603.10 states in relevant part as follows:
(a) After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child. Such orders may include, but are not limited to, orders for one or more of the following:
- a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision-making responsibilities and parenting time;
- supervision, including ordering the Department of Children and Family Services to exercise continuing supervision under Section 5 of the Children and Family Services Act;
- requiring the exchange of the child between the parents through an intermediary or in a protected setting;
- restraining a parent’s communication with or proximity to the other parent or the child;
- requiring a parent to abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while exercising parenting time with the child and within a specified period immediately preceding the exercise of parenting time;
- restricting the presence of specific persons while a parent is exercising parenting time with the child;
- requiring a parent to post a bond to secure the return of the child following the parent’s exercise of parenting time or to secure other performance required by the court;
- requiring a parent to complete a treatment program for perpetrators of abuse, for drug or alcohol abuse, or for other behavior that is the basis for restricting parental responsibilities under this Section; and
- any other constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety or welfare.
Can I seek to have the parenting supervised?
Of course. But first, you have to file the appropriate petition. A judge will most likely assess the facts as alleged in your petition to determine if the matter is an emergency and if parenting time should be modified temporarily until the matter can be further investigated. The judge will then likely appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or Child Representative who will represent your child and will meet with all of the parties involved. The GAL or Child Representative would be the eyes and ears of the court and report if the child has in fact been abused and any recommendations for modification of allocation of parenting time.
If You Suspect Child Abuse, Talk to a Family Law Attorney
If you suspect that your child is being abused by the other parent, talk to a family law attorney to determine what the first steps should be. Each case is different and a wrong first move could damage your case before it even starts. It is important to have sufficient evidence gathered to present to the judge in a matter that meets the court’s requirements. An Illinois family law attorney experienced with child abuse and neglect cases can help you gather the right evidence and effectively communicate the urgency of the situation to the judge.