My ex called Child Protective Services on me. What should I do?

Q:

My ex called Child Protective Services on me. What should I do?

A:

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a governmental organization tasked with ensuring the well-being of children throughout the United States. The goal of CPS is to investigate and respond to the more than 2.5 million reports of child abuse and mistreatment of children each year. They accomplish this through evaluation and investigation of complaints, support of parents and rehabilitation of families. Under some conditions, however, CPS may be tasked with the removal of children from homes.

Unfortunately, if you are involved in a divorce or separation, there are instances when a spouse, ex-spouse or partner may contact CPS and make claims against you of child abuse or neglect. Whether the motives are vindictive or done with the best intentions, the results can wreak havoc on you and your children. In fact, CPS is required to investigate all accusations, regardless of whether you believe that the accusations have merit. With this in mind, if your ex-spouse, spouse or partner contacts CPS, it’s critical that you protect yourself by taking the following steps.

1. Take the allegation of abuse seriously.

If your ex-spouse or partner has called CPS, the first step is to take the allegations seriously. Do not ignore the allegations and hope they go away. Do not try to explain what happened or how your ex has a vendetta against you. Never be hostile or defensive toward the CPS agent. Find out details of the allegations and contact your lawyer.

2. Contact your lawyer.

The second step if your ex-spouse or partner contacts CPS is to immediately contact your lawyer and discuss your case. If you have received a call that an allegation has been made against you, discuss the allegation with the social worker and find out the details of the complaint. Try to get the state statute number or local ordinance code that you have allegedly violated.

Note: Because CPS charges may be criminal in nature, it’s a good idea to have your lawyer present during all CPS interviews. In fact, because even innocuous statements may be used to build a case against you, it’s important to consult with your attorney before talking with a CPS official.

3. Understand your rights.

After discussing your case with your attorney, the next important step is to understand your rights. Too often parents forfeit their rights, especially their Fourth Amendment rights. For example, the Fourth Amendment states that citizens have the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

What does this mean? You do not have to allow a social worker to enter your home unless they have a warrant, which means that they have gone to a judge, presented evidence that a crime has been committed, and the judge has agreed and issued a warrant. So, what do you do if a CPS agent comes to your door and asks to come in? Be polite and pleasant. Notify the CPS worker that you wish to cooperate with them but that without a warrant, they do not have the authority to enter your home.

Note: There are instances when police officers may enter your home without a warrant. Generally, however, these instances do not apply to CPS workers responding to an allegation. If an officer is with the CPS agent and insists on entering your home without a warrant, it’s best to comply with the request and notify your attorney so that this action can be investigated at a later date. Do not use force to keep a police officer out of your home.

4. Document and/or record all conversations with CPS officials.

The next step is to document (as much as possible) all of your communications with the CPS official. Ideally, this means that you would record the conversations. Unfortunately, the laws regarding taping conversations is a bit complex. For example, federal laws, as well as some state laws, allow you to record conversations as long as one party consents to the recording.

However, other states have laws that require the consent of all parties involved in a conversation. The laws can also get a bit more complicated if each party is in a different state. With this in mind, before recording conversations, it’s always best to discuss your legal options with your lawyer. If recording conversations is not possible, however, you should still keep detailed records about all interactions with CPS.

5. Have your child examined by a doctor.

Next, if an allegation of physical abuse is involved, take your child to their treating physician and have the doctor document that there has been no physical abuse or mistreatment. A thorough examination can show that there is no evidence to the allegations.

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Bottom line: Determining child custody can be a difficult process. Unfortunately, it can also be complicated by a spouse or ex-spouse who uses threatening and coercive tactics, such as using a governmental body like CPS against you, to attempt to manipulate custodial arrangements. If your spouse, ex-spouse or partner has called CPS, it’s important to know your rights and talk to your lawyer.

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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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