Divorce is a difficult process, even in the best of circumstances. That’s simply the reality of the situation, even when couples are both on the same page and feel it is the best decision – even when they are committed to working cooperatively together to make the process go as smoothly as possible. In some circumstances, however, an already difficult situation can unfortunately be made even more so by the presence of abuse.
From July of 2018 to June of 2019, over 102,000 children in North Carolina were referred to the Department of Social Services for investigation into claims of abuse and neglect. Those numbers are not unusual – in fact, every year, for the last twenty years, over 100,000 children each year have been referred. Those numbers are staggering and sad – and they mean that child abuse is far more widespread than many people probably realize.
If you find yourself in a situation where you either know, or believe that your children are being abused, the first thing to do is to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their safety. In some instances, you may be experiencing abuse yourself as well. Abuse can be exceptionally dangerous, not only from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint as well. Often, abusive spouses are exceptionally good manipulators. They will often attempt to make their victims feel as if they have done something to “deserve” the abuse. In reality, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you find yourself in an abusive situation, you should leave that situation as soon as you possibly can. This is more important than any other advice that we can provide on this site. Your safety, and that of your children is of utmost concern. Call the police. Go and stay with a family member or a friend. Stay in a hotel if you need to. Seek help from local social services and shelters, if necessary. Whatever you need to do to remove yourself from a dangerous situation, do it – and worry about the details of your divorce later. Your attorney will be able to fight on your behalf and help you assert your rights, even when you worry that you may not be able to. Remember – safety first, details later.
In other cases, we don’t receive questions about abuse that is happening prior to divorce, but instead, about abuse that it believed to be happening after divorce. Sometimes, a mother or father will come to us with concerns that the other spouse is being abusive to the children during his or her time with them. Understandably, this is extremely concerning. Often, we are asked what signs should be looked for, and what steps should be taken.
Sometimes, abuse is difficult to see on the surface, and it certainly isn’t always obvious. Some of the signs that could indicate the presence of abuse include:
- Becoming withdrawn, anxious, or otherwise not wanting to interact socially in a usual way;
- Showing excessive anger, aggression, or unexplained hostility;
- Withdrawal from or disinterest in usual activities;
- Engaging in self-harm;
- Other abnormal activities that you know are out of character for your child.
While looking for these signs is helpful, more than anything, it is important to remember that you know your children best. If you believe that abuse may be occurring, you should trust your instincts and follow-up on those suspicions. Talk to your children. Talk to those you trust. Don’t feel afraid of taking action.
If you legitimately have reason to believe that your children are being abused, you should not only talk to the appropriate authorities, but should also speak with your attorney as soon as possible. If you have a court-ordered custody arrangement, you may be able to return to court to have that custody order modified in order to ensure that your children are no longer placed in harm’s way. Even if you have an agreement which you entered into with your spouse regarding custody, that agreement can (and almost always will) be modified by a court when abuse is proven.
Don’t delay speaking to your attorney about the options you can take to protect your family if you believe that abuse is occurring. At The Law Office of Dustin S. McCrary, we’re here for you. We know the law, and we understand the best strategies to purse to protect your family. Call us today.