- What do I do if I suspect that my child is being physically or sexually abused by the other parent?
The accusation of sexual abuse of a child is one of the most difficult issues that can arise in a divorce. The very first step that you should take if you suspect your child is being sexually abused is to contact the childís pediatrician. If the pediatrician believes that abuse has occurred based upon her findings, she is required by law to make a report to the Department of Social Services (DSS). Doctors are ìmandated reportersî of child abuse and they make what is known as a ì51A reportî under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 119, section 51(a). Thereafter, DSS has ten days to complete an investigation and determine whether the allegation of abuse is supported.
In the interim, your childís pediatrician may refer you to a medical or mental health specialist with expertise in treating victims of sexual abuse. It is also very important that you obtain an attorney with experience in this field.
It is likely that DSS will request that you obtain a restraining order [see Abuse Prevention Orders above] barring contact between the child and the suspected abuser. DSS may also refer the matter to the local district attorney for criminal prosecution in district or superior court, which could occur simultaneously with your divorce or custody action in probate and family court.
The probate and family court is likely to appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the allegation of sexual abuse so that the Court may make an informed decision when faced with deciding whether visitation should occur between the alleged abuser and the child, and if so, under what circumstances. Frequently in such situations, the Court will order that visitation be supervised.
If allegations of sexual abuse are made in bad faith, the probate and family court will have serious concerns about the ability of the accusing parent to act in the best interests of the child.