Be Sure There Is Evidence of Child Abuse
Video Transcribed: Can I stop allowing visitation in order to protect my child in the State of Oklahoma? I’m Tulsa attorney James Wirth and that’s the question that we have.
If you have a court order for visitation, but you believe the child is being neglected or abused in the other home, are you still required to file that court order or can you refuse visitation? This is a question that comes up regularly in our practice, and it deals with balancing two issues.
For the first one, you’ve got a court order for visitation. If you don’t allow that visitation, then you’re potentially in contempt of court, where you could be sentenced to up to a year imprisonment for violating the court’s order.
On the other hand, you have a duty to protect the child. Based on Oklahoma’s extremely broad child neglect statutes, just simply the act of failing to protect the child from abuse is, in fact, defined as child abuse. So you could be charged with felony child abuse with the potential of up to life imprisonment if you fail to protect the child. This is what the law requires. These are the elements in order to prove child abuse under the relevant circumstances. First, “A person responsible for the child’s health, safety or welfare.” Second, “willfully.” Third, “failed to protect from harm or threaten harm to the health, safety or welfare.” Fourth, “of a child under the age of 18.” So that is a definition of child abuse. You could be charged with child abuse for simply failing to protect if you are a parent or a person responsible for the child’s health, safety, or welfare.
So if you do not allow the visitation, you’re potentially in contempt of court. If you do allow the visitation, you’re potentially guilty of felony child abuse and facing up to life imprisonment.
So what do you do? All right, well, there’s a statute that helps under these circumstances. Okay, here we go. So it is Title 43, Section 111.4. It says, “A parent who in good faith, and with reasonable belief supported by fact, determines that a child of that parent is the victim of child abuse or neglect or suffers from effects of domestic violence, may take necessary actions to protect the child, including refusal to permit visitation.” This statute can be used as your defense for not allowing visitation so that you’re not committing the crime of failing to protect from child abuse if you believe that’s going on.
But the burden’s going to be on you to, one, show that you’re acting in good faith, that you are acting for the best interests of the child, not being vindictive and trying to hurt the relationships with the other party, or trying to alienate the child against the other party.
Two, it’s got to be supported by fact. So you have to have evidence supporting the facts that you believe the child is a victim of child abuse or neglect. If you have those things, then this statute protects you from being found guilty of contempt.
That’s the standard you want to use. Can you disallow visitation to protect your child? The answer is that you are required by law to protect your child if you have good reason to believe the child is a victim of abuse or neglect. Do not fail to protect the child because that’ll make you guilty of child abuse just by failing to protect.
However, ensure that you have sufficient evidence supported by facts and that you’re acting in good faith to protect the child, not trying to disrupt the relationship with the other parent. Those things have to be balanced.
If you’re dealing with these circumstances, you’re definitely going to want to speak with an attorney about your specifics to see if that person can help evaluate to see how safe you are, because this is a dangerous area where you could be in trouble either way you go. So you got to balance those factors properly. To talk to an Oklahoma child custody lawyer about that with my office, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.