Child protective services can be reluctant to get involved “in one of those messy divorce cases.” Some departments take the stand that behavior by a non-custodial parent is outside of their purview, because the mother can protect the child by getting the family court to curtail the visits. This stand ignores the fact that most family courts do not have investigative staff, certainly not of the kind that child protective services have, and are not generally trained well on child abuse and neglect issues. Furthermore, when a child protective service fails to take action on a case, the family court generally interprets that failure to mean that no protective intervention is necessary, and that the mother must have made a false allegation, even if that isn’t what the child protective service meant to indicate. And therein lies the main risk in making a child abuse report; if the social workers decide not to get involved, you may be in a worse position than before you reported.

So begin by asking advice anonymously from your local program for abused women, to see what type of response they consider likely from your child protective service based on their experience. (If you give your name, they might feel obligated to make a report even if you don’t want them to.) Consult also with your lawyer if you have one. If you decide it’s best to involve child protective services, see if a professional such as a school teacher, advocate at the abused women’s program, or your child’s therapist can file on your behalf, since the state may investigate more carefully if the report isn’t viewed as being “a weapon in a custody conflict.”

If you find out that allegations against non-custodial parents are not handled well in your area, gather up as much evidence as you can and ask for a hearing at the family court. Whenever possible avoid going into court with only your own word as evidence. Try to bring witnesses, or at least letters from them, to provide independent accounts of what your child is saying or doing that raises red flags, and get support from a professional if you can.