How to Deal With Concerns About Visitation Safety

What to Do When You Believe Your Kids Are in Danger

A sad girl looks contemplative.
Learn how to express your concerns about visitation safety constructively. Photo © James Ross / Getty Images

Question: What should I do if I have concerns about visitation safety? I truly believe that my ex poses a threat to my kids. She's driven drunk with them in the past, exposes them to all kinds of low-lifes and drug addicts, and practically ignores them. Do I have to send them for regular visits? I feel like I'm putting them in harm's way if I force them to go, but I also worry that she could get custody if I refuse to send them. What can I do?

Answer: If you truly fear for your children's safety, you must speak up about your concerns. But know up front that there could be repercussions. Let's take a closer look...

What kinds of concerns do the courts typically see as legitimate?

If you fear that your ex is a danger to you or your children, the court will treat the issue as a legitimate and serious concern. In general, judges are very careful to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse, threats of violence, and any form of domestic violence before making a child custody determination.

This also means that before granting custody or visitation rights to your ex, the judge will likely investigate the allegations to make sure you are not making them up. Family protective services may also become involved to help the investigation. The court and/or child protective services may contact your neighbors, extended family members, and even your children’s teachers in an attempt to verify your story.

During this time, the judge may allow the accused parent to spend time with your children. In some cases, visit may be supervised or take place in a neutral setting to ensure the children’s safety.

How can I protect myself against my ex saying that I'm making false accusations?

You can take several steps to support your case if your ex accuses you of making false allegations.

If your ex has abused you or your child in the past, you should make sure you have documentation showing this. This may include police reports, medical records, or testimony from people that know you and can speak about the abuse. If your child visited a doctor or therapist to treat symptoms of the abuse, obtain records of these visits to show to the judge.

If your child continues to exhibit symptoms of abuse or trauma, you should take your child to a therapist or mental health professional to undergo an evaluation.  The therapist will review your child’s case and can present an expert opinion to support your claim.  In disputed cases before a judge, the judge may order another therapist to evaluate your child to get a second opinion. Unfortunately, this means your child may be subjected to multiple evaluations and interviews to verify the abuse or harm.

How can I protect my kids?

If you fear for your children’s safety or are concerned about the other parent’s ability to care for your children in your absence, you should immediately express these concerns to the judge. If you have not yet filed for custody, then you can file for custody in court, explain your fears, and present a case for sole physical custody and limited visitation.

However, you will need to provide evidence to support your claims, such as text messages, voice mails, and witness accounts.

If your ex harms or threatens to harm you or your children, you can request a protective order, sometimes called a restraining order. You can file for a protective order at the courthouse handling your case (or your nearest family court). Typically, a temporary order will be issued if a person has been abused or threatened, and a final order will be issued after a formal hearing at a later date. Even with a protective order in place, your ex can still violate the order and come near you or your children. However, if your ex violates the order, he or she faces serious consequences, including jail time.