I recently found out that my ex's girlfriend will make my child drink vinegar if she is "bad", is this considered child abuse? I do, and it makes me very mad that she does this. Is there any legal action I can take.
1 Answer from Attorneys
What exactly constitutes abuse is hard to define. But, it appears that forced consumption as punishment, might be deemed to be at least inappropriate, by a judge or Guardian Ad Litem. There were several Washing the mouth out with soap for cursing cases that addressed a similar situation. There was a recent issue of putting Hot Sauce on the child's tongue as punishment in another jurisdiction. So, it is hard to guess what a Kansas Judge will determine about vinegar, which is edible, but can be caustic. The issues are your daughter's well being and your concerns as her mother. Getting anyone in trouble or settling old scores with an Ex should be way down the list.
Before you resort to the Courts, first determine if this is something that you and the father can stop. If you two agree that it is not to occur again, that is more effective than any Court Order. Document your discussions with him, and any agreements you make. If you can do so by friendly letter or email summarize the agreement. It may be that once called on it, the girlfriend may see the error of her ways. It is often almost better for the children when problems are addressed amicably by the adults, than by contested litigation.
If you cannot or choose not to resolve this directly with them, and you're convinced it was more than a single occurrence, you need to get an attorney or other trusted friend involved. Based upon the words you chose, I detect that you and the girlfriend are not accustomed to addressing issues involving your daughter together. You might not fight with the father, but you and he may not be on terms amicable enough for you to be convinced he will adequately address your concerns with his girlfriend. (There was a reason that he is your ex.)
A disinterested adult may be able to address your concerns without litigation. They can contact the ex and perhaps the girlfriend, and assess if this is a matter that can be resolved without the Court, if litigation is needed, or if a call to Children's Services is required. You, by virtue of being a parent are very concerned about the welfare of your child. A wise woman can understand that being an ex spouse can cloud objectivity in relation to how your child is treated while in the care of their ex spouse. Your daughter may benefit by someone getting the adults in her life to do what is better for her.
Child abuse is serious, but a call to Children's Services about disputes in child rearing or discipline can start more trouble than it fixes. A court may determine that forced drinking vinegar is abusive. Probably they would not find that a small amount consumed once or twice will not cause permanent harm to the child, and may not require drastic action. . Children's services will make their own determination, and they sometimes overreact. If your ex husband has Legal or primary Physical custody, they may remove the child, based upon the call reporting past vinegar consumption. They will not take or release the child to you, in that case, based upon an assumption that the Court had a safety or security reason for not granting custody to you. . She will go into state or foster care, pending investigation and resolution.
If you are the one with Custody, and he visitation, they will take the report and may leave her with you during the investigation. They may threaten to take her away from you, if you allow her to see or talk to her father until they or the court say it is okay. you did not say how old your daughter is. She may blame and resent you, if she cannot communicate with her father. That is another reason it is important that you have a documented effort to address your concerns amicably, or a reason why you could not.
Kansas is in the process of correcting their statutes and regulations. But, as they are now, many children are adopted out, because disagreeing parents battle over perceived abuse in the home of the one with Custody. If you ever feel that your daughter is in imminent danger or has been seriously abused, and you cannot protect her, contact the authorities without delay. Her well being is more important than all the loss or inconvenience her parents might suffer. Just keep in mind that Children''s Services may be in your and your daughter's life for years.
I repeat, that it may be best to address this directly with your Ex or through an attorney. If you decide not to try that, or it is unsatisfactory, you can use the vinegar drinking as a basis for a Motion to Modify the Custody and Visitation Order. In that case, I suggest that you start with the attorney that last represented you in the divorce/custody matter. If that is not suitable, then contact other counsel sooner rather than later. The longer the time goes with no vinegar drinking, the less effective it is as a basis for modification of the present Order. You may be able to get an a restriction that the girlfriend not be in the house when your daughter is there, (not too likely) or that she not be alone with your daughter, (more likely.)
There can be unforeseen consequences to an Motion to Modify. If your husband has custody, and the reason you do not still exists, the Court may be forced to put the child elsewhere, with both of you having only supervised visitation for a while. You were wise to get some general information based upon the limited facts you can provide here. . It may smart to get legal advice specific to the more of the facts of your particular matter.
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