Don’t Try To Represent Yourself
Video Transcribed: My name is Brian L. Jackson. I am a father’s rights attorney in Tulsa, and today I’d like to talk to you about what you should do if your child discloses neglect or abuse in their mother’s home.
This is a situation that should be handled quickly and carefully because if you don’t handle it exactly right, you can have some legal exposure, and it could potentially lead to further harm to your child. And it may create a situation where you have some credibility issues in proving up the fact that there really is a problem. So it’s very important that you handle this correctly.
Now the first thing I will tell you right out of the chute, if your child makes this kind of disclosure, particularly if they do it spontaneously without being prompted, you should 100% take it seriously. Don’t try to figure out if they’re telling the truth or if they’re not telling the truth.
You do want to, without leading, try to get enough information that you can ascertain if you’re really dealing with a situation where there’s abuse or neglect or whether it was just something that happened that the child may have misinterpreted. But don’t try to guess if the child’s telling the truth or not. If they disclose something to you that’s concerning, you need to act immediately.
Now, the first thing you should probably do is get a hold of a lawyer right away. And you want to get a good lawyer, because this is going to involve some complicated litigation without a doubt, and you may also have to get DHS and/or law enforcement involved.
And you want somebody who’s on top of their game to handle that. If for some reason you find yourself in a position that you cannot get a lawyer right away, like let’s say it’s something that happens at a Friday evening pickup or something, then depending on the nature of the allegations, you may want to go directly to law enforcement or DHS. If there’s an immediate problem that needs to be addressed, those resources are available to you when the lawyer may not be.
But if you can get a hold of a lawyer, get a hold of a lawyer. If you already have a lawyer that you’ve retained in your custody matter that’s still on retainer, then if they’ll accept your call after hours, this is a reason to bother us after hours. I know for my part, I don’t mind getting this kind of call, even if it’s some weird hour of the night, because it is an emergency.
But if you can’t get a hold of a lawyer, do get a hold of law enforcement or DHS, report it immediately, because what you don’t want to do is delay and set yourself up for a situation where you could either hurt your credibility or be considered to have failed to protect your child from an abusive or neglectful situation. So you have to take it seriously, and you have to act quickly.
Now, what is your remedies once you get a lawyer? Well, your lawyer’s probably going to explore, if you’re custodial, are going to explore serving the other party with a notice suspending visitation until there can be a proper investigation of what happened. If you are non-custodial, then they will look into filing an application for emergency custody.
That is a high burden, and you should be aware of this. It’s a high burden because you basically have to establish that the child is in an environment that creates an imminent peril to their health, welfare, or safety and that the child’s health, welfare, or safety will be immediately harmed and irrevocably if the court doesn’t act. So it’s a high burden, but if you’re talking about an allegation of neglect or abuse that happened recently, that should meet that burden. Your attorney should be able to get that result for you.
Now, in addition to that option, the attorney may also look and may still advise you may need to go to DHS, you may need to go law enforcement, depending on what happened, depending on the allegation. What about protective orders? Well, if there is a custody order in place, protective orders are not a substitute for going into family court and getting an emergency ex parte order.
Now there are a lot of women out there that will try to go get a protective order if they’re dealing with a situation like this, and this is a really common thing I see in my practice, is that you’ll see the first thing she does is go to the court clerk and go get a protective order. That is not the correct way to handle the situation.
What a protective order is designed to do is to prevent harassment and stalking and domestic abuse from being perpetrated against the victim. It is not intended, designed, or allowed to modify a custody arrangement. In fact, the statutes that control protective orders under Title 22 specifically prohibit the protective order court from modifying an existing custody order.
And if you try to do that, the judge is either going to deny the order, or they’re going to tell you you need to go get an emergency order and give you a deadline. And you may potentially be looking at a situation where if it’s misused, you may have some exposure on attorney’s fees, and this is not the correct way to do it, is the long and short of it. You need to go get a lawyer, and you need to go to family court and get an emergency ex parte order. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can get a protective order to resolve this problem. That is not what they’re intended for.
The correct course of action is to go get an emergency ex parte order. The only scenario where you might maybe want to get a protective order coming out of an abuse allegation or coming out of a neglect situation is if that allegation is accompanied by, for example, if your children’s mother starts to blow up your phone with phone calls if she starts showing up at your house if she tries to show up at your house and take the child after you’ve gotten your emergency ex parte order after you’ve taken this issue up with the court.
Then you might need to go for the protective order to restrain her from coming on your property and harassing you. But they’re not intended as a way to go around a custody order, so don’t go that route.
And the other thing I’m going to advise you very strongly against doing, do not to resort to self-help without the courts and without the assistance of a legal professional. If you simply withhold your child from going back to her house, I’m going to tell you right now that will not work out well for you. If you are the custodial parent, you may be looking down the barrel of a motion to enforce. You may also be looking down the barrel of a contempt citation and potential criminal sanctions for withholding that child in contempt court. So you cannot do that.
You need to get a lawyer, and, if they advise you, you need to go to whatever investigative body is appropriate, whether it’s DHS or whether it’s law enforcement or both, but you cannot just resort to self-help without the court. I advise strongly against trying to handle this situation like a pro se litigant. It is your right. However, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
This is complicated litigation, and unless you are a legal professional, you’re really not going to be equipped to handle this. You’re not going to be familiar with how to plead your case into the court so that the judge will look at your pleadings and realize that this is a serious situation because you don’t necessarily get to go in front of this judge in an emergency ex parte and tell your story.
You have to be able to tell your story effectively in writing and use the language that the court expects to see to meet the statutory requirements. And a lawyer can also advise you when it’s appropriate to involve DHS when it’s appropriate to involve law enforcement.
So it is really, really important that you get a lawyer involved. Don’t try to represent yourself. This is a serious situation. You want to get it right, because if you make a mistake, it’s your child’s safety, it’s your child’s welfare that’s at stake, and you don’t want to screw around with that or be too cheap to pay that retainer.
Get a good lawyer. Give me a call. This is the kind of litigation I do. I do this on behalf of fathers. I’m very passionate about making sure that fathers’ rights are protected and that their children are safe, healthy, and happy.
So, if you need help with a situation, seriously, call me, because you do not want to try to go it alone, and you do not want to resort to extrajudicial self-help. That’s how you get yourself jammed up. My name is Brian L. Jackson, and we’ve been talking about what to do if your child makes a disclosure about abuse or neglect.