Child abuse allegations in a dissolution action

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Unfortunately, people going through a dissolution are usually very good people in the worst time of their lives due to factors such as stress, the unknown and the emotional trauma and this can cause poor decision making. People make false allegations of abuse against the other parent, and do not realize the negative effect that this will have on the children. Potentially, the implication could also lead to loss of employment for the accused. However, there are some cases that truly involve abuse, against the spouse/parent or against the children and it is crucial to be able to recognize this abuse and to be able to prove it in court in order to obtain the relief needed for the victim. This is in addition to any Dependency or Criminal case (that has different burdens of proof).

There are 4 major type of abuse:

Emotional Abuse: This is the most common type of child abuse and it is very difficult to prove. It is especially difficult since in most circuits in Florida, the Judges do not permit the children to testify in a dissolution/paternity action against their parents. Emotional abuse can be defined as rejection from a parent, abandonment, verbal assaults and aggressive parenting styles.

Neglect: Neglect refers to a range of conditions in which a parent or caregiver fails to adequately provide for a child’s needs: attention, love, food, proper health care to name a few. Neglect is sort of an all-encompassing “verb” for child abuse. It is action, lack of action, or even screaming constantly resulting in hurting a child’s self-esteem. You can neglect to feed your child, not provide medical care or just neglect to supervise them properly. This is a huge area in the dependency arena.

Physical Abuse: In Florida, corporal punishment is not considered physical abuse; however, there is certainly a fine line. This would be the easiest form of abuse to prove because it is visual: bruising, broken bones, loss of weight, to name a few. Teachers, school administrators and physicians usually recognize physical abuse easily and act to protect their student or patient.

Sexual Abuse: If a child or another adult engages in any sexual act with a child (consent by a child is not a defense; they are not old enough to consent) or exposes the minor to unsuitable sexual material or behavior that is considered sexual abuse. This means an “act” does not have to be performed on a child or demanded that a child perform on an adult or another child. Making a child watch sexual activity between adults or view pornography is sexual abuse in most states.

In order to be able to prove abuse in court, you need to document anything that you find to be suspicious. By “document” I mean keep a journal, take photos, and report allegations to your child’s pediatrician. This documentation can help to ensure your evidence is something that will be admissible and relevant with your court case to help you protect your child. Collecting evidence and documenting incidents are second to PROTECTING YOUR CHILD — do not put him or her in a known abusive situation for any reason. You need to seek legal counsel to ensure you and your child are protected legally. Hire an attorney that has experience with abuse cases, and be sure to act quickly to protect your child.

For more information on how you can protect yourself and your child while proving your case in court, you can contact Schwam-Wilcox & Associates. We have experience with abuse cases in family court, domestic violence court, criminal court and dependency court. You need an attorney that knows all of these areas of law when there is an abuse situation so you have the best representation.

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