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Trying to get authorities involved over mother's questionable parenting approach - any advice?

Your Question:
I've read many of your responses and you're very helpful. That's why I have a question for you... My husband's ex is a real problem. I have heard how terrible she was to everyone in his family/friends and how she got in fights with EVERYONE. She's been through many jobs also. She was (for 2 years) leaving nasty messages on his/my answering machine. That has stopped with her newest lawyer. She is a neglectful mother and has left my stepkids home alone many times when they were 5 & 7, then 6 & 8. when we asked her many times not to do this, she still did & we were forced to call DSS. She (about a year ago) filed false restraining order on my husband that he was agressive & pushed her. He was beyond upset that she would stoop to this level. She tried to control EVERYTHING and calls the police if he doesn't agree with her & how she sees it. REcently, my stepdaughter came over with a scratch on her face & when my husband asked how she got it, she said she was slapped & her mom put hot sauce in their mouths. The children were very upset by this. We don't know what to do because we feel she is unstable & neglectful, but have gotten nowhere with Cps & the courts. The courts seem to always go for the mom's side. Any suggestion, or are we being to critical? I don't really think so... help! Thank you.

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My Answer:

Of course you're not being too critical, based upon what you describe. The problem you have is that what responsible parents deem inappropriate is not always bad enough for the court to do anything.

Leaving six and eight year olds by themselves is neglect. However, you'll have to really build your evidence that this is going on. This could include a private investigator.

Smacking a child in the face and scratching, and putting hot sauce in a child's mouth as punishment, are examples of discipline that may be too harsh. A court would likely frown upon it, but it may not be bad enough that Child Protective Services would do anything. So, again, you'll have to build your evidence that this is going on. Take pictures. Take the child to a child psychologist to discuss what's happening.

Once armed with a plethora of evidence as to many incidents of inappropriate behavior (i.e., different from declaring a national state of emergency with each tiny little occurrence), you'll have a strong case to go into court and say, "We have strong evidence as to 14 incidents of borderline neglect and discipline beyond acceptable limits. We want a change of custody, or a change of the parenting schedule, or a custody evaluation, etc."

At that point, a judge would take notice that mother is showing a consistent approach that is not in the child's best interest.

But to have any impact on the situation, you and husband can't do anything impromptu or without a sound plan. If you make a random call to DSS after a face scratch, it's like throwing darts in the dark and hoping that one of them hits a bulls-eye. It's just not a good strategy.

I recommend that you get the book Win Your Child Custody War by Hardwick. There's a link to it from my Resources page. Because you're dealing with a mother who is not overtly abusive on a daily basis, you and your husband really need to understand what's relevant and how you will build your case. A sound strategy may take a year to build, but at least you'll be working towards something.

Above all, always remember that the most important thing is that you and your husband continue to be the best parents you can. At least you have 100% control over that aspect.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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