Recently, the following issues were raised concerning the custody and parenting time rights of an unmarried father after a breakup with the mother.
Mom objected to his proposal and asked for sole physical and sole legal custody. She claimed that Dad had a history of domestic abuse, of being an absent and uninvolved father. In her opinion, Dad posed a risk to the young child as demonstrated by earlier incidents.
Dad's vehicle is involved in an accident. When Mom calls to speak to the child after a few hours of parenting time, Dad refuses to put the child on phone to speak. Mom is alarmed because she hears Dad's girlfriend screaming in the background. Mom is frightened and asks Dad to tell her what is wrong. Dad says they have been in a car accident, that the child is fine, and he then hangs up. Thereafter, Dad refuses to answer his phone or to respond to text messages.
Mom calls the paternal grandmother who says she didn't know Dad and GF still had the child. She says that she arrived home to an empty house and has assumed that Mom had picked up the child. Mom says no, and explains what she knows. Dad then refuses to respond to the grandmother's calls.
Eight hours later, Dad brings the child to Mom's home. He refuses to say what has happened, to say whether the child was hurt or whether the child had been taken to a hospital or had any medical treatment.
Mom takes the child to hospital, and the child is admitted for observation.
Mom is now at wits end. Because there has been no hearing on Dad's complaint for custody and parenting time and because there is no custody order or parenting time order in place, Mom wants to know what she should do. She asks whether she can suspend parenting time without getting into trouble. Mom had previously been willing to settle the issues with Dad having parenting time on alternate weekends, but now wants to rescind that offer because she feels that Dad is still not able to demonstrate he is mature enough to in the child's best interest.
Thus, the question is: Given the current status of this case, can Mom suspend Dad's parenting time all together without it backfiring? Mom proposes a second option -- that Dad can have supervised visitation with mom and parental grandmother together, but not with Mom alone given the past history of domestic abuse. Mom points out that this is not the first time Dad has put the child in danger. Mom believes that he has filed for custody out of spite.
What can and should Mom without prejudicing her case?
Bear in mind that I represent as many dads as mothers, and my recommendations have absolutely nothing to do with any bias against a male parent or favoritism for a female parent. My approach to a case is always based upon the specific facts of the case.
Under the fact pattern that is presented above, in my opinion the mother would be at risk to be charged with failure to protect if she lets the father have parenting time with the child that is not supervised in a facility until there has been a thorough investigation of this situation.
Obviously, the paternal grandmother hasn't taken seriously her promise to supervise. Mom is now aware that Dad (a) does not provide a proper child restraint in the car, (b) refuses to provide Mom with any information about the car accident involving the child, (c) refuses to state whether the child was unconscious or injured, (d) refuses to state whether he has sought any medical care for the child, if so, where, when, what the injury(ies), diagnosis and treatment were.
Dad's actions are completely unacceptable and Mom should not put child at risk.
Suspension of parenting time vs. supervised parenting time in a facility. If Mom were my client, I would tell her to refuse Dad parenting time unless he agrees to exercise it in a supervised parenting time facility. There are two supervised parenting time facilities in Northern Michigan:
Safe Haven. Traverse City: 3785 Veterans Drive, Traverse City Tel. 231.946.8975 Ex. 1008
Safe Haven. Harbor Springs: 3434 M-119, Suite F, Harbor Springs Tel. 231.347.4463
Does refusal to permit parenting time prejudice Mom's case?
Wouldn't that prejudice Mom's claim for sole legal and sole physical custody by making it appear as though she is refusing to facilitate a close and continuing relationship between the father and the child (one of the "Best Interests of the Child" factors)?
Here, where there is no parenting time order in place, Mom cannot be in contempt of court for refusing parenting time. Moreover, by the specific terms of the Acknowledgment of Parentage Act, Mom legally has "initial custody of the minor child, without prejudice [to Dad's right to seek custody or parenting time]." See MCL 722.1006 part of Michigan's Acknowledgment of Parentage Act.
Danger of continuing the parenting time. Knowing what she now knows, Mom could be at risk for a neglect & abuse petition to be filed against her for "failure to protect" if she allows the parenting time to continue as it presented is being done. See this link for more information about the Child Protection Act and failure to protect. Mom cannot afford to put her child in potential harm's way.
Need to document what has occurred. Mom should ask for a copy of police reports under the Freedom of Information Act to find out what happened. She or her lawyer should send requests to produce to Dad or his lawyer to inquire about any medical intervention after the car accident. If anyone was transported by ambulance, EMT records and 911 call records and tapes should be subpoenaed as well.
For more resources on neglect and abuse and custody and parenting time issues, visit my website at http://traversecityfamilylaw.com
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