Getting a divorce is a difficult and emotional process. When a child is involved, the process can be even more emotionally taxing, as many of the issues in a divorce affect the entire family, children included.
A parent’s great joy is their child, and their worst nightmare is their child’s safety being compromised.
If you think your child is facing serious endangerment from your spouse, you don’t have to navigate the situation alone. Every family is different, and we will be by your side to help you find the right solutions for you and your child.
What Is Child Endangerment?
Child endangerment is conduct which threatens a child’s mental, moral, or physical health, or which significantly impairs the child’s emotional development. These definitions are inherently ambiguous and grant the court broad authority to address a wide array of child endangerment and abuse.
Child endangerment can take many forms. It certainly includes physical abuse and neglect. It may also include a caretaker abusing drugs or alcohol in front of the child or while the child is in his or her care.
Verbal abuse, intimidation, and interference with a child’s relationship with others may also arise to endangerment, depending on the circumstances. Likewise, acts which would impair a child’s emotional development or cause mental/moral harm may include exposing the child to inappropriate material or situations, interfering with the child’s participation in regular extracurricular or social activities, or otherwise acting in a way which leads to harm. If you have concerns about your child’s safety and care, it is best to speak to an attorney to determine if the matter is actionable.
Domestic relations courts are tasked with acting in a child’s best interests and the preservation of a child’s safety is of paramount importance. As such, there are different consequences for each type of child endangerment, as well as legal solutions in place to protect your child.
The Consequences of Child Endangerment
At the highest level, abuse is most commonly addressed by determining if the underlying allegation is factual and, if so, modifying the abuser’s time to prevent further abuse—while simultaneously addressing the impetus for abuse via therapy, substance abuse counseling, anger management classes, parenting education and the like.
If your child is experiencing abuse, you may want to explore suspending the abuser’s parenting time or having the abuser’s parenting time be supervised. These restrictions on an abuser’s parenting time would likely prevent many forms of abuse from recurring. However, whether these restrictions last in perpetuity depends on the severity of the abuse and whether the abuse can be improved via court involvement or the use of mental health professionals.
Where the abuse is recurring, it may be necessary to intervene on an emergency basis to avoid further harm. This may take the form of an emergency order of protection, emergency petition before a domestic relations court, or other emergency intervention.
Depending on the nature of the abuse and how readily available the underlying evidence is, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem or child representative to assist in investigating or advocating for the child’s interests (respectively).
A guardian ad litem and child representative are both likely to conduct thorough investigations, speak to collaterals, and assist the court in identifying if abuse is present and, if so, how to address it and protect the child. These investigations tend to carry significant weight in court.
While a guardian ad litem provides a report to the court on an ongoing basis and may be a witness at trial, a child representative typically advocates for a child’s best interests. In practice, both regularly inform the court of their impressions of the case and issues affecting the child.
When it comes to substance abuse, your spouse may be required to undergo substance abuse counseling and/or a treatment program. Alcohol monitoring, as well as PEth and drug tests, may also be ordered to determine the extent of substance abuse.
The court’s order—as well as the outcomes of your spouse’s rights to parenting and required course of action—will depend on the specifics of your case.
If You and Your Child Need Help, Please Contact Us Today
At Stern Perkoski and Mendez, we don’t just care for adults—we care for everyone in your family, including your child.
If your child is facing serious endangerment, please let us help. We will work with you to navigate the legal system, modify judgements and adjust custody arrangements. And we will always fight for an outcome that ensures your child’s safety and wellbeing are put first.
Telling your spouse you want to get a divorce is never easy. If you’ve taken that step and are ready to speak with an attorney, our team is here to support you along the way. Request a free consultation or call us.