How to Prove Child Abuse in Family Court

Child crying
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Child abuse can be hard to define. Each state has abuse laws that outline what is considered abuse in that state. This information can be found at Child Welfare Information Gateway. To prove child abuse you need to have a knowledge of how it is defined in your home state or the state that has jurisdiction over your child. There are four types of child abuse:

1. Emotional Abuse: This is the most common type of child abuse. Emotional abuse toward a child can take many forms. Anything from rejection, abandonment to verbal assaults and aggressive parenting styles can be classified as emotional abuse. 

2. Neglect: Neglect refers to a range of conditions in which a parent or caregiver fails to adequately provide for a child’s needs. It has always been my opinion that all types of abuse fall under the umbrella of “neglect” as child abuse.

If you constantly scream and yell at a child you are neglecting to take into consideration the damage to the child’s psyche. If you beat a child you are neglecting that child’s right to a safe environment free from physical harm. The courts, however, view neglect as the failure to provide basic needs of the child. If a parent doesn’t provide food, housing, access to medical care, adequate supervision or, proper education the courts consider the child to be “neglected.” 

3. Physical Abuse: This one needs no definition. Who doesn’t know what does and doesn’t constitute physical abuse? Hitting, slapping or causing any form of physical pain to a child is against the law. It falls under the same laws that govern “domestic abuse.” Physical abuse is the easiest form of abuse to prove in Family Court.

4. Sexual Abuse: Any situation in which an adult or another child engages in a sexual act with a minor or exposes the minor to unsuitable sexual material or behavior is considered abusive. Sexual abuse can take place whether or not the child has contact with another adult or child.

For example, if a mother engages in sexual activity in the presence of her children, she has sexually abused her children. A father doesn’t have to sexually touch a child to be guilty of abuse. He may encourage his minor child to view pornography online or, engage in conversations about sex that are not appropriate for the child’s age. 

If your child begins to behave abnormally, have a heightened interest in sex for someone his/her age or has bruises and abrasions that can’t be explained it is time to take your child to a doctor for confirmation that something unpleasant is happening in the child’s life. 

Proving Child Abuse in Court

Your first step to proving your child is being abused is to document everything. Every time you see a bruise or behavior that you feel signifies something problematic is occurring, write it down and take photos and videos. Keep a journal and write down every incident in which you are suspicious. Any doctor you visit should be made aware of this evidence as should the court. Hiring an attorney who is willing to fight to protect your child is essential to proving abuse and modifying a custody agreement. 

Imminent Danger

If you feel your child is in immediate danger of being harmed the court refers to this as “imminent danger.” For example, if you have weekend visitation and your child shows up with a black eye given by the mother’s boyfriend who lives in the home, your child is in “imminent danger” of being hit again once the child returns home.

In such a situation you need an attorney to advocate for you and your child by filing an emergency ex parte petition to the courts for an immediate change of custody.  Photos of the injury, a doctor’s report, statements from the child and anyone who witnessed the abuse go a long way in convincing the court that the child is not safe in the custodial home.


Jeopardy differs from imminent danger because if your child is in jeopardy there is the possibility of some form of abuse. The child may not have been abused yet, but your child is in a situation that could lead to abuse. For example, if the child’s Dad is living with a woman who has been convicted of child abuse and had her children removed from her custody there is the possibility that your child could also be abused by the new woman in Dad’s life. This is another reason for documenting injuries, finding criminal records of the new girlfriend and having an attorney petition the courts for an immediate modification of custody. 

Proving your child is in “imminent danger” or, in “jeopardy” of being harmed means you will have to do your homework and be willing to promote the best interest of your child via documentation, doctor’s statements and forking over the money for an attorney willing to go Rambo on the abusive parent in the courts. 

Proving the Other Parent Unfit and Yourself Fit

Not only will the abusive parent’s parenting skills and lifestyle be put on trial, so will yours’. I consulted with a divorcing client whose son was being verbally and emotionally abused by his Mom. Mom was recorded screaming, yelling and cursing at the child. She told the child he was “worthless, would never amount to anything and a noose around her neck.” This venom was spewed at the child daily. The problem in this situation was that Dad’s behavior was just as damaging to the child. 

Dad was newly divorced and sowing some oats. He dated a different woman every weekend. Was sleeping with the women during his son’s visitation weekends. He had a revolving door of women coming in and out of his bedroom in front of his son. On top of that, he was part of an organization which, at that time, was pushing for the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. This was a case of deciding the lesser of two evils when it came to child custody.

You can’t go before the courts and expect a change of custody from an abusive parent if you aren’t living a squeaky clean lifestyle. Some changes had to be made in my client’s choices before we could entertain the idea of pointing fingers at his ex. He made those changes and within four months had a new custody order giving him sole legal custody. 

If you have documented evidence, doctor’s reports and statements from the child and others about the abuse, you can prove the abusive parent unfit. But, what will you need to do to prove yourself fit?

How to Prove Yourself “Fit” 

As a divorced parent remaining “fit” to raise your child is something you have to be more aware of than a married parent. Let’s face it, divorce means introducing the Family Court system into your life and once that is done you want to live beyond reproach or you take the chance of the court interfering with your relationship with your child. How can you do this?

1. During divorce take a parenting class. Some jurisdictions require parenting classes, some don’t. Take one whether it is required of you or not. 

2. Stay away from drug use and, take a monthly drug test and keep the results filed away so you will always have proof in court that you do not use illegal drugs. 

3. If you don’t work, get a job. No court will give you custody if you can’t support your child.

4. Don’t cohabitate with a member of the opposite sex when your child is in your home. Date if you want, don’t make your child part of your dating life.

5. Be able to provide your child with suitable living conditions. A home or apartment in a safe neighborhood and a separate bedroom for the child. 

6. Don’t run with the big dogs! Seriously, if you hang with ex-felons who have questionable behavior, you need to become a bit choosier about who you call a friend. Expose your child to friends and family who promote good examples of morality and character.

7. Be able to prove to the court that you make a concerted effort to civilly co-parent your child. If you spend your time attempting to make your exes life a nightmare you will be frowned upon by the court. 

Ultimately, proving child abuse comes down to providing the court, via an attorney, convincing proof of the abuse and your ability to better parent your child. If you fear your child is in imminent danger or in jeopardy of being harmed it is your duty as a parent to stop at nothing in an attempt to gain custody and provide a safe environment for the child. 

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