Maintaining regular visitation with your child as the non-custodial parent, via in-person contact or electronic communication, is an important priority that the vast majority of parents vigorously strive to protect. Custodial parents also typically have a vested interest in fostering a relationship between their child and the non-custodial parent as being in the child’s best interest. But what happens if a parent is accused of sexually abusing his/her child prompting the launch of a dependency investigation by the Department of Child and Families (DCF)? What type of visitation or contact, if any, should be permitted between the parent and child? A recent story in the Huffington Post discusses a mother who grappled with this issue after suspecting her ex-husband of sexually abusing their daughter when she was a toddler. Police said there was insufficient evidence to justify launching an investigation, and the mother allowed her daughter to spend time with her ex-husband despite having this belief. Due to the possibility that contact between a child and a parent accused of sexual abuse could lead to additional injury, Florida law has prescribed guidelines about when and how to allow visitation and/or contact in this situation.Presumption of Harm
The purpose of the law governing visitation with a parent involved with child sexual abuse is to place additional requirements on judicial determinations of this issue. There is an automatic presumption that visitation or contact is not in the best interest of the child if a parent was found guilty of any of the following offenses:
- removing a minor from state in violation of a court order;
- sexual battery;
- lewd and lascivious behavior;
- child abuse; or
- the parent was designated as a sexual predator.
If a parent meets any of the criteria listed above, the parent must request an evidentiary hearing in court before visitation or contact can resume. At the hearing, the court can consider evidence from the child protection team, the child’s therapist and the child’s guardian ad litem even if the type of evidence offered would not be allowed at trial. In order to overcome the presumption against visitation or contact, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s “safety, well-being, physical, mental and emotional health” would not be compromised by visitation or contact with the parent.Conditions of Visitation/Contact
If a judge decides visitation or contact is acceptable, the court may still restrict the visitation/contact between the parent and child to that which is supervised by someone with specialized training in child sexual abuse. Visitation or contact may again be prohibited if the court is later informed that the parent is using the time with the child to attempt to influence the child’s testimony. If such information comes to light, the court must have another hearing within seven business days to determine if visitation or contact should continue. Additionally, if the child is under the care of a therapist, and the therapist tells the court the child’s progress is being hampered by contact with the parent, the court is required to reassess whether continued exposure to the parent is in the child’s best interest by holding a hearing within seven business of learning this information.Seek Legal Assistance
Responding to the knowledge that your child’s parent is involved with child abuse will never be an easy situation, but working with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of child custody will offer the best resource available to protect your family. Stok Kon + Braverman in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach have many years of experience in family law matters and can assist you with your case. Contact our office today to schedule a confidential consultation.