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What Should I Do If I Suspect or Have Proof My Ex Is Putting My Child at Risk?
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare—suspecting (or even having proof) that their ex might be putting their child in harm’s way. Whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the effects on the minor victim can be devastating.
Yes, speaking out against your ex and protecting your children via legal action can seem daunting at first. You may be worried that your concerns might not be taken seriously or that you’ll just be labeled as a “vengeful ex.” But there are ways to protect your children from further mistreatment, and that’s why we recommend staying in contact with your divorce attorney after your split is finalized. For example, the attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent our clients in all types of post-judgment modifications and matters.
The State of New Jersey Has Laws to Protect Children
In the Garden State, if you have reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered any form of abuse, then you must report the information you have to the State Central Registry (SCR). You don’t need proof to report the suspected abuse. This is very important because if it’s later discovered that you suspected and failed to report the abuse, then under state law, you can be considered a “disorderly person.”
Can I Get My Ex’s Visitation Rights Terminated?
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of not being certain your child is safe with their other parent, there are steps you can take to terminate their visitation rights if there’s just cause. When you consult with an experienced family law attorney at Smedley Law Group, who’ll be able to determine what options you have, as each family’s situation is unique.
The first step will be to honestly evaluate if you’re just irritated or upset at your ex’s thoughtless actions. No parent is perfect, and your ex will never quite hit your high standards. As long as you’re certain that your concerns aren’t motivated by your negative feelings for your ex, the next step will be collecting proof that your ex shouldn’t be left alone with your children.
In New Jersey, there are basically a few ways to have a parent declared unfit. To do so, you must show that the child has been harmed in some way (not necessarily physically) but also that the parent:
- is “grossly immoral”
- doesn’t act to protect or maintain the child’s health
- doesn’t properly provide for the child’s education
- has committed actions that endanger the child’s life or well-being.
How to Gather Evidence if You Believe Your Ex Is an Unfit Parent
It’s not necessarily easy to have a parent declared unfit. First and foremost, New Jersey courts generally like to keep their children with their parents unless it’s necessary to remove them from the home. Everyone involved, from judges to attorneys, may be suspect of accusations because it’s common to have declarations made, especially in a contentious divorce.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that just because their ex is raising the child differently than they would, this constitutes being unfit. Instead, the court will require evidence that the child has suffered physically or mentally because of the parent’s actions.
This physical evidence can take the form of the following:
- Medical records: Evidence that’s taken very seriously are medical reports. If you have any doctor or hospital records (such as X-rays) that can show physical abuse, then this will be accepted as evidence. In addition, the medical reports of the other parent can be used if it documents issues such as substance abuse or mental instability.
- Media and recordings: If you have photos or audio/video recordings that can document the abuse, then you should save these as evidence. Additionally, social media posts and phone/text messages can also be submitted as evidence.
- Criminal and court records: If the other parent has been accused, arrested, or convicted of crimes such as domestic violence, narcotics, or other offenses, then this can also be used to show a pattern of being unfit.
- School records: Oftentimes, an abused child will reach out to an authority figure at school, such as a teacher or counselor. Their reports and referrals can be used in proceedings. Also, the child’s discipline record, attendance, and grades can be used as supporting evidence.
- Other records: Finally, documentation from NJ Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) can be used as evidence.
To properly document these claims, it’s important to find a lawyer who focuses on New Jersey family and custody law, as the attorneys at Smedley Law Group do. Your attorney can better guide you on how to move forward with these accusations.
What Can Happen to a Parent Who’s Declared ‘Unfit’?
Under New Jersey law, a parent who’s declared unfit can face serious consequences. The most obvious of these would be a change in custodial rights.
Being declared unfit can result in a person being denied custody or having limited or supervised visitation. In extreme cases, it can also result in total termination of parental rights.
If both parents are deemed unfit, then the child may be placed into foster care or adopted by another family member. Additionally, if a parent is declared unfit and they have other children from a different relationship, they may lose custody of those children as well (even if they never abused the other children).
What Does This Mean for the ‘Fit’ Parent?
If a parent is declared to be unfit by a court, then the other parent can be given custody of the child. The court’s decision will be to provide the child with the best possible outcome for his or her welfare.
This may mean that the parent is given physical custody, meaning the child will reside with the fit parent. It’ll also mean that the parent could be given legal custody, meaning he or she would have a say in making the decisions on how to raise the child.
Focus Your Child’s Safety, and Allow an Experienced Family Law Attorney to Help
Sometimes, people caught in a difficult divorce case will make allegations about their ex to punish them by denying visitation or custody. But other times, there’s concrete evidence that the parent has been abusing or neglecting their child.
When this happens, it’s necessary for the courts to become involved to protect the child. To do this, the parent bringing the accusations should contact a child custody/family law attorney with a background in such cases. The experienced lawyers at Smedley Law Group can help you navigate the court system and reach a result that is in the best interest of your child.
Contact the Experienced Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Marlton, NJ Today
If you’re facing a difficult situation with your co-parent, you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney to protect your children’s rights. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.