If you are witnessing abuse to your child going on right in front of you, call 911 immediately. However, if your situation is not as immediate, but you have good reason to suspect that your ex is putting your child at risk, here are some steps you can take to protect your child(ren).
Call Child Protective Services
Each county and jurisdiction has an agency in place to intervene in cases when there is suspected child abuse or neglect. Once a call is made to the office of Child Protective Services (CPS), the matter is assigned to a case worker whose job it is to investigate the claim of abuse or neglect. If there is a finding of abuse or neglect, the case worker, on behalf of the government, can initiate a court case. The CPS case worker may contact extended family members, neighbors, and teachers in order to find enough evidence to determine whether a case should be opened. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, CPS could restrict or suspend your ex’s access to your child. One downside of this process, however, is that it often takes weeks or months to complete the investigation, and there is no guarantee that the findings will be favorable to you and your child.
Petition the Court for a Protection Order
Another way to get protection for your child is directly from the courts. If you are able to allege sufficient facts for a judge to find that abuse or neglect has occurred at the hands of your ex, then either by yourself or with the help of a qualified lawyer, you can petition the court for a protection order. This process can be completed in a day or two and it could result in barring your ex from contact with your child. The first hearing does not require your ex to be present and will only provide short term relief. However, within a week or two, your ex will have their day in court to confront your allegations. At this point, you should consider hiring a lawyer because there will be a trial involved. If you prove your case at trial, you can get a protection order preventing contact between your ex and your child that lasts for up to a year.
Motion for Emergency Relief
Whether you have an existing custody order or parenting agreement, or whether there has never been anything formally decided, a third way to get protections is by filing a motion for emergency relief. You can also file for emergency relief if there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm to your minor child. If you have evidence of abuse, then you are able to quickly get before a judge who can grant relief. It is best to hire a qualified lawyer who will prepare the appropriate pleadings, raise the relevant issues, and present the facts in a way that will be most convincing to the judge. This process could be longer than the first two processes discussed, but the relief will be longer lasting than a protection order.
A Combination of the Three
In your case, it may best if you use a combination of the three types of relief mentioned above. In order to determine how to best protect your child, it is highly advisable that you speak to an experience lawyer who can effectively and efficiently navigate you through the process. There are many pitfalls for the unwary. If you have any questions about whether your ex is putting your child at risk, but are not sure how to proceed next, I would be happy to start a dialogue. Understanding that your child’s safety is paramount, I will do everything allowable to help you protect your son or daughter.