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Establishing Child Abuse in a Custody Action

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Child abuse must be established by clear and convincing evidence that the child was physically abused

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Custody Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

I had written a prior blog article (See Link) regarding suspected abuse and NOT reporting every allegation of abuse that's suspected to have been committed by another parent.  It involves a Children and Youth Agency in your lives unnecessarily, not to mention hurting your chances of a successful custody modification, if you are wrong or "overzealous."

However, I wanted to step back and discuss the need to report abuse if you believe it is occurring.  If you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle or other parent, it is essential that you take affirmative steps to protect the child(ren).  The court's primary consideration in a custody matter is the best interests of the child(ren).  the court reviews the evidence and testimony in a custody matter and makes findings of fact.  Those findings are based upon a preponderance of the evidence standard.  Or, more likely than not.

Unrelated, yet instructive on the issue of child custody, is the area of child welfare laws.  "Dependency" means that the child is without proper parental supervision, care and control while in the custody of a parent.  The burden of establishing physical abuse is "clear and convincing evidence."  That's more than a preponderance.  Innuendo and suspicion alone, however, are not enough to compel a finding of child abuse.

So, in a custody matter involving two parents or third parties that want to establish the best interests of the child, they need to document the abuse heavily.  If there is physical, mental or emotional abuse occurring at the hands of one of the parents, what are the signs?  Are there photos, eyewitness accounts, statements from the child?  Is the abuse such that it's at a level the court would consider it a strong factor in determining the needs and best interests of the child?

The best advice to parents involved in custody matters where abuse is suspected, is to have the child evaluated.  Speak to the other parent about getting the child seen by their pediatrician and a psychologist to discuss their medical and emotional issues.  If you have additional concerns regarding child abuse and custody matters, you may contact the experienced custody lawyers at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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