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When to Involve Law Enforcement in Divorce-Related Parenting Disputes

Divorce is a complex and emotional process, and when children are involved, it can become even more delicate. It’s not uncommon for parents to face challenging situations where they might consider involving law enforcement.

So when do you report a problem? And what can police do to help?

Billie Tarascio, owner of Modern Law and host of the Modern Divorce Podcast, asked Lieutenant Doug Mozan, a seasoned police officer based in Eugene, Oregon, some of the questions she’s been getting in the Modern Divorce Support Group on Facebook.

When Safety Comes First: DUIs and Warrants

One critical scenario occurs when a parent is stopped by the police for a DUI or an open warrant. Lt. Mozan emphasizes that the primary concern is the children’s wellbeing. Officers will first seek to place the children with a relative to minimize trauma. This step reflects a compassionate approach to law enforcement, where officers aim to treat the children as if they were their own, avoiding any additional distress.

Addressing Suspected Abuse: A Delicate Matter

Suspected child abuse is a grave matter. According to Lt. Mozan, in such instances, the approach varies by state. In Oregon, the procedure involves a trauma-informed forensic interview and possibly a medical examination, conducted by specialists trained to work with children. The goal is to gather the best evidence without causing further harm to the child.

It’s essential to note that not every injury will lead to a forensic interview or a police report. For example, if a child returns from a visit with scratches from playing, law enforcement will look for a reasonable explanation before jumping to conclusions.

Corporal Punishment: Understanding the Boundaries

In some states, like Arizona and Oregon, corporal punishment by parents is legal within certain limits. Step-parents, if married and custodial, may also be permitted to discipline the children. However, there’s a fine line between discipline and abuse. If that line is crossed, and a child sustains injuries, the situation can escalate to criminal charges.

Custodial Interference: Upholding the Parenting Plan

Parenting plans are legally binding, and when one parent fails to adhere to them, it could be a case of custodial interference. Police are often called to mediate these disputes. If a parent is willfully withholding a child without cause, they may face charges. Lt. Mozan stresses that cooperation and a focus on the child’s best interests are paramount.

Cross-State Custody Issues: Jurisdiction Matters

When a child is taken out of state against a custody order, law enforcement will enforce the order based on its jurisdiction. The key is having the legal documents ready. Without cooperation or in the absence of an arrest warrant, the police’s ability to act may be limited, underscoring the importance of legal documentation in custody matters.

Involvement of Child Welfare Services

Child welfare services play a vital role in cases of neglect or abuse. When a child’s safety is in question, the police work closely with these agencies. The standard for intervention can vary, and the threshold for police to remove a child from their home is high, often requiring clear evidence of immediate danger.

At Modern Law, we understand that these situations can be overwhelming. Remember, you’re not alone. We’re here to guide you through the complexities of family law, ensuring you and your children are protected. If you’re facing a difficult custody situation, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional advice.


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