Your Options When You Have Evidence That Your Child May Be Unsafe
When you’re a divorced parent, time spent away from your children can be hard. You understand it’s important for them to have strong relationships with your ex, but you miss them. More than anything, though, you want them to be safe. When you see evidence that the other parent’s house may be an unsafe environment for your children, or if your children say things that make you think they might be at risk, you need to do something. But what can and should you do?
Determining What Constitutes a Risk to Minor Children
Custodial and non-custodial parents often have dramatically different views regarding what situations pose a risk of danger to minor children. There are specific instances that courts generally find constitute an unsafe environment:
- Where the parent has a history of domestic violence or abuse;
- Where there is evidence that a parent has intentionally tried to harm a child physically, mentally, or emotionally;
- Where there has been illegal drug use in the home;
- Where there has been sexual contact with the child;
- Where firearms or other dangerous weapons are accessible to the children; and
- Where the parent has failed to provide reasonable and necessary food, shelter, or medical care.
Typically, a court will not find an unreasonable danger simply because a parent is a poor housekeeper or allows children to engage in rough play, unless the play involves weapons or other dangerous items.
Your Options When You Have Evidence of an Unsafe Environment at Your Ex’s House
In most situations, your first step should be a discussion with your ex, particularly when the evidence comes from your children. Before you seek assistance from the courts, you want to have fairly conclusive evidence of the risks to your children.
If your ex refuses to discuss the matter with you or dismisses it as unimportant, don’t try to take matters into your own hands. That will often backfire and give your ex a basis for taking legal action against you. Instead, you’ll want to work with your attorney to file a motion to suspend your time-sharing agreement. Such motions typically include a request for an emergency hearing, where the court will consider evidence to determine whether visitation/access should be suspended. Until the court hears and grants your motion, you may not legally deny your ex access to your children.
When ruling on your motion, the court will look at whether there’s credible and sufficient evidence to support an immediate suspension of visitation. If the court issues an order suspending your spouse’s visitation rights, any violation of that order is considered contempt of court, and you can petition the court for sanctions against your spouse.
You also can file a motion for a protective order. Putting a protective order in place allows you to call the police if your spouse tries to see your children after visitation has been suspended. To get a protective order, you must provide the court with specific evidence of past harm or threats of future harm.
Before ruling on the protective order, the court may enlist Child Protective Services to investigate the conditions at your ex’s home, determine whether they warrant a court order limiting access, and establish how long the protective order should stay in effect.
Contact the Proven Family Law Attorneys at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we understand your concerns for the safety of your children. We can help you take the right steps to respond to an unsafe environment. We offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment with one of our experienced Texas family law attorneys, contact us online or call us at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.