After you and your child’s other parent are no longer together, you will have a parenting plan which sets out time-sharing and decision-making. Once this plan takes effect, you will have no choice but to give up some control over what happens when the other parent is with your child. Another adjustment you may have to make is accepting that your ex’s new spouse will also be part of your child’s life. While the step-parent and step-child dynamic can work in some situations, it is another matter entirely when you believe this person presents a danger to your child. Here is what to do when you think your child’s step-parent may be abusive:
Assess the Threat
How you respond to a suspicion that your child’s step-parent is abusive, will depend heavily on the information you receive. First and foremost, you must make certain your child is safe. If your child comes back from parenting-time with unexplained bruising or injuries, you need to have them examined by their doctor right away. When your child reports blatant abuse, you need to act immediately to protect them. If your child says that their step-parent purposefully injured them, it may be necessary to call the Florida Child Abuse hotline. The same action should be taken directly if your child reports that anyone has had sexual contact with them or asked them to engage in any sexual behaviors. You will also need to contact law enforcement to report the information.
If the information your child provides alludes to verbal or physical discipline such as yelling or spanking, it can be harder to determine if the step-parent was engaged in abusive conduct. In Florida, reasonable corporal punishment by a parent is not against the law. Talk to your child asking open-ended questions and allow them to explain what happened. If this is a discipline issue, you should confer with the other parent about appropriate measures to take for this purpose. If that effort is met with resistance, you may need to get the court involved.
One of the primary ways you can circumvent the need to return to court by talking with your attorney about this issue and including a term in your parenting plan which states specifically states the permissible disciplinary actions which can be used with your child and by whom.
Family and Individual Therapy
Adapting to life as a blended family can be stressful especially when there are new step-siblings and parents in your child’s life. What your child may perceive as abusive could be part of learning to live with a new authority figure. You are also going to have to get used to another adult being a part of your child's daily life. This may be the right time to contact a family therapist to assist everyone through this transition. If your child is having behaviors in response to this change, they may also benefit from seeing someone on their own.
Consult with a Family Law Attorney
When there is possible abuse making sure your child is safe is the ultimate priority. However, it could be the case that what the child thinks is excessive may be part of learning to live with a step-parent. If you have concerns about a step-parent’s conduct towards your child, you need to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you assess your options.
At the Draper Firm, we have knowledgeable and experienced family law attorneys who understand the issues which arise with children and step-parents after divorce and can help you evaluate your case. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation. We invite you to learn more about our firm here. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.