If you become aware that your child is not safe with your ex who has full or partial custody, there are five things you should do. This is particularly true if you can show that the child is being physically or emotionally abused by your ex or their partner/spouse, or the child is otherwise being exposed to a dangerous environment.
1. Consider the situation carefully.
Make sure you aren't falling prey to being overly judgmental or jealous of the changing situation in your ex's life. If the household your child is staying is disorganized but doesn't put the child in any sort of jeopardy, taking the following steps could end up costing time and money but not yield any satisfactory results for you. It may also make your ex feel wary, resentful, and less likely to cooperate with you about things you may want in the future, like extra time for visitation or for trips with your child.
Things that would cause a court to step in are:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the child.
- Domestic violence that a child may witness on a continual basis.
- Neglectful inattention to child's health and welfare.
- Dangerous conditions caused by occupants of residence child is staying in such as having firearms in easy access to child or illegal drug use.
- An urgency due to escalating nature of the abuse, or the other parent is planning to flee with the child.
2. File to receive a emergency ex parte hearing.
If the situation is escalating, or severe, you should write a document that outlines what is going on, sign it, and file it with the court as soon as possible. Usually within a very short period of time, you will meet with the judge to discuss your concerns. The judge may then grant you physical custody on an emergency basis if they feel the situation warrants it.
3. Collect as much evidence as possible for the evidentiary hearing that will follow.
Before the evidentiary hearing, you will want to gather as much evidence as possible about the abuse/dangerous situation. Things that would help your case are:
- People willing to testify that they witnessed threatening behavior or abuse towards the child.
- Medical evidence that the child has been abused.
- Testimony by a psychological professional that the child is being harmed in some way.
- Photographs of the child's bruises or other injuries.
- Using discovery (having a person be questioned by an attorney at a law office, usually under oath and recorded/transcribed) or interrogatories (written questionnaires to be answered) of persons involved, and of third parties, which can shed some light on the problems.
4. Go to a evidentiary court hearing to modify the child custody arrangement.
Your ex will receive a notice to come to at this hearing and will have a chance to refute your claims with testimony and evidence of their own.
If you are awarded full custody after presenting your allegations and evidence, you will also want to seek a modification of the divorce decree to reflect this. Your child support obligation may also be lowered if you now have physical and legal custody of the child.
5. Consult an attorney.
You will want to consult a family or domestic violence attorney for more information on your specific situation and to help you ensure the safety of your child.