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. The frustration is exacerbated if there is a court order for visitation, subjecting the parent seeking to withhold visitation to sanctions for violating the parenting agreement. To protect children who are being abused, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides specific remedies to either remedy the situation or stand in the gap 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:
(1) a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision-making responsibilities and parenting time;
(2) supervision, including ordering the Department of Children and Family Services to exercise continuing supervision under Section 5 of the Children and Family Services Act;
(3) requiring the exchange of the child between the parents through an intermediary or in a protected setting;
(4) restraining a parent’s communication with or proximity to the other parent or the child;
(5) 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;
(6) restricting the presence of specific persons while a parent is exercising parenting time with the child;
(7) 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;
(8) 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
(9) any other constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety or welfare.
If you suspect that your child is being abused while he or she is with the other parent, you will first need to determine if the police should be called. There are some situations, such as allegations of sexual or physical abuse, where the police and possibly the Department of Children and Family Services should get involved. In other cases, such as emotional or mental abuse, the police are likely to refer this matter to the domestic relations judge.
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 that your child is being abused by the other parent, talk to an 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 attorney can help you gather the right evidence and effectively communicate the urgency of the situation to the judge.