Proven Representation

Photo of Jeff Meadows and Catherine Ritzmann
Photo of Jeff Meadows and Catherine Ritzmann
Photo of Jeff Meadows and Catherine Ritzmann
Proven Representation

Dead Gorillas, Alligators, Child Injuries, and Parenting Rights

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2016 | Family Law

A little boy wades in a lagoon next to an outdoor movie and an alligator drags him away and into the Florida swamp.

My kid came back from his visit, and he or she was injured, but it too young to tell me what happened. What do I do?

Or maybe your child comes home from day care with a bruise they didn’t tell you about. What should do?

Perhaps you are separated from your significant other, and your ex both see your child or children without the other parent being present.

Here in Cincinnati we recently made the national news when a child slipped away from his Mom and fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. Perhaps you heard about it? Harmambe the Gorilla’s death informs us that any time a child gets injured, it could definitely affect parenting rights.

Right after Harmambe was shot, one of the greatest topics throughout the United States was whether the parents of the child who fell into the exhibit should have been held accountable for the Gorilla’s death, and one of them wasn’t even at the zoo the day his son fell into the exhibit). This means Dead Gorillas can affect parenting time, if a child is involved.

People are even more passionate about their own children then they are about Harmambe the Gorilla. Commonly, one of the parents fears that the child was harmed by the other parent, perhaps from excessive discipline or some other kind of parenting issue. This has led to yours truly looking at numerous photographs of childrens’ buttocks to spot palm prints over the years, and years ago I defended parents in Cincinnati who belt whipped their children and left broken skin and scars on their buttocks when I worked in Public Interest law in the late 1990s when I first practiced law. So I have seen a lot of injuries to children over the years, in a court setting. The parent sees a bruise, perhaps in a place like the bicep which often indicates the child got grabbed for some reason, and the parent is concerned that maybe the injury resulted from abuse.
If your child is too young to speak for his or her self, your child is also unable to protect his or her self. What can you do? Let’s face it: if your kid is injured and you don’t know why or how, you will want to CLAP. (That’s an acronym by the way, as is explained below.)

C is for CALM:

You want to be strong, calm, and collected, and not allow your passions to control your decisions. Your passions will want you to call 911. Instead, you should remain calm and make your choices based on logic, reason, and sound trial strategy.

I am NOT suggesting that you should not seek medical treatment for your child if you think it is appropriate.

I AM suggesting that your life as a parent will be happier if you will always remember that there are often GOOD reasons why a kid might have a bruise.

What about that kid who fell into the Gorilla Pit at the Cincinnati Zoo? Wouldn’t it have been great for the Gorilla if he had been caught by his bicep, instead of falling in? It would almost certainly leave a bruise, and might even have dislocated the child’s shoulder, but even so, those injuries are much better than having the child fall 15 feet into the Gorilla Moat, possibly breaking bones or even worse, dying from the fall. In another example, if your child was about to fall off of the bed at your ex’s residence, and possibly break his or her arm, bruising is a small price to pay, if it prevented the child from having a possible worse injury.

L is for Logic:

All decisions must be based on logic and reason; To reason, you must investigate and gather all the facts you can. Your actions will be based on whether you subdued your passions and were a calm and logical parent (the CL in CLAP in case you didn’t notice how those things fit together.)

Is it logical to call law enforcement or child protective services? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Keep in mind that if your child is injured, your child may need medical treatment. During the medical treatment, if it happens, the doctors, nurses, and all of the other workers have been trained to spot injuries that come from abuse. If they spot such an injury, they are generally required to report that injury to the appropriate agency.

In Cincinnati, the child who fell in the Gorilla pit was taken to the hospital. When they examined that child, if the child had any injuries that could have resulted from abuse, the doctor would have called Child Protective Services, who up until recently, even had offices within Children’s Hospital so they could provide immediate assistance. So even when a child falls into a gorilla pit, the hospital will be sure to check for abuse.

Therefore, logic dictates that if there is a serious enough injury to require medical treatment that whether the doctor called an agency and reported abuse would have a lot to say about whether the injury could be proven to have been caused by bad parenting in court. I have seen this happen when a child got x-rayed and they discovered the child had compression fractures to both of his femurs, indicating not only that serious injury had occurred, but that it had not been treated. Those two parents are out of prison by now, but their child was taken away from them by the state.

This also means that if you do not see an injury that is serious enough to seek medical treatment, that it may not be an injury that has an effect on parenting rights. The court, if asked, might in essence say, “if the injury did not require medical attention, then it definitely is not very likely to have been reported as abuse by a doctor. Maybe it follows that it is unlikely that this injury resulted from abuse.” Of course, this assumes that only injuries serious enough to require a doctor’s care constitute abuse, which of course, simply is not true. Why is this?

The problem here is that many parents will illogically decide to make false allegations against the other parent, and the court sees this occur frequently. Since in those cases the injuries, being fake or trumped up, do not get reported by a doctor or hospital or schoolteacher, it gives the impression that the two phenomenon run hand in hand. If the court thinks that you are trying to gain traction on your custody case by making weak or false allegations to JFS regarding abuse, this can only harm your case. So you will want to be wary about this.

In situations like this, it is only logical to not assert claims which are too petty to do anyone any good in court. If you do this Calmly and apply Logic, then you can ACT in a proactive manner, thus nearly accomplishing a CLAP.

Be sure to act to document the injury by taking clear pictures, and obtaining prints if you think you will need to show the injury to someone later on.

Act on whether you should discuss this with the other parent. Your first decision should be to decide whether to bring it up at all. If it is not serious enough to require a doctor’s attention, then maybe it is not worth bringing up to the other person.

On the other hand, not bringing up the injury means you will not know what the other person knows. Keep in mind that he or she may have already crafted a lie. Keep in mind that you may become angry if you talk to your ex. Keep in mind that you don’t want to accuse someone of something they had nothing to do with.

A good way to approach this is to say, in a calm voice, “were you aware that our child _____________(fill in the blank: e.g., burned her arm)? Listen carefully to how the other person responds. You will need to be proactive about writing down any reaction you have, so keep handy a pen and paper to take notes. If the person acts with no emotions whatsoever, or doesn’t seem upset or concerned, and this is not typical of how you know that person to normally react, they may be deceiving you.

This is where you find out things like: my child’s arm may have been bruised, and my child may have been grabbed by the bicep, but that was because she was about to walk off the curb into an oncoming bus. Or: my child ran off, and nearly fell into a Gorilla Pit while at the Cincinnati Zoo, but was stopped just before he or she fell, bruising the bicep.

Those are good reasons for your child to have a bruise or other boo boo. You at this stage will have documented the injury, so if it happens again, you will have proof that this happened the first time. If it happens again, it might be evidence of a pattern of abuse. That’s why it is so important to document this type of thing.

The other thing is you should probably do is this: politely remind the other parent that if they knew about the injury that they should have said something to you so that you didn’t worry, or worse, call the police or child protective services.

Another act is to report the incident to the authorities, be it the police or some other agency. In Ohio that agency is called Child Protective Services.

In my experience, the involvement of CPS is never a good thing, and should be avoided. Now a CPS worker is going to go to your ex’s house and interview him. This generally makes tensions escalate, not get lesser.

On the other hand, if you asked your ex how she got bruised, and received no response from your ex or anyone else, then a logical next act and one I might advise you do to if you believe there may be a problem, was to report the incident to CPS so that THEY could then investigate. If you Calmly apply Logic and Act appropriately as a PARENT, then you can actually CLAP.

P–Act Like a PARENT Should

Your actions as a parent will be judged by the court or others. That’s the “P” part of the CLAP part, and this is just as important as all of the other points. Perhaps the most important thing is to remember that a court is about to judge you on your parenting skills, and maintaining a calm and logical demeanor and acting appropriately is a big part of being a parent. And, generally speaking, court will award the most amount of parenting time to the party that the court thinks is the best parent.

Of course, the hallmark of being a parent is to be adult-like and that includes not acting childish in parenting scenarios and doing things like lying or exaggerating or fabricating evidence. Anything you say or do as regards the other party may come back in to haunt you. For example, I asked a lady once if she had a journal, and she said she did in fact keep a journal that had recorded all of those issues as they occurred. There was only one problem with that, and that was that my client had NOT kept current on her journal, which became obvious when the other attorney began asking her questions about her journal entries and how they lined up with known events. Moral: you will be asked to account for nearly any statement you make. Make those statements accurate, so that you don’t look childish, like a child plagiarizing a term paper.

How to be sure you are being properly adult-like? I recommend that you never say anything to your ex that you would not say to a police officer, your boss, or someone else you perceive to be the more powerful party than you. Why?

Because if I am the judge and I have to decide who to give the majority of the parenting time to, I may choose the more adult-like of the two people, assuming they will be a better example for the child or children. Again, there really isn’t any logical reason to assume that a calmer person would be the better of two parents, but on the other there is a lot of authority that the opposite of “calm” can and often does traumatize children. Therefore, be careful what you say and do: if you did something very childish towards the other parent, and the court finds out about it, this may put you in a position where you cannot persuade the court to give you the parenting time you want. So if your child has an injury, choose your words and actions wisely, since you can usually be quoted in court, be sure to CLAP.

If you need an attorney who has been successful with hundreds of child custody, visitation, paternity, and delinquency cases, please give me a call. I’d be glad to sit down and speak with you for free, and see if Meadows Law can be of service to you.