What Is Child Abuse?
Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, child abuse consists of intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly performing acts that result in the harm of a child, including:
- Causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
- Falsifying or exaggerating symptoms that lead to a wrong medical diagnosis of a child.
- Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury to a child.
- Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child.
- Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child.
- Creating a possibility of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child.
- Causing serious physical neglect of a child.
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting a child.
- Unreasonably restraining or confining a child
- Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age.
- Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.
- Interfering with the breathing of a child.
- Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child’s parent, who the actor knows or reasonably should have known is a sex offender or a sexually violent predator.
- Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.
How Child Abuse Affects Custody
Determining child custody in Pennsylvania is up to a judge who weighs all factors and evaluates what will be in the best interests of the child. If one or both parents have any history of child abuse, it will impact the judge’s decision.
There are two parts to child custody: legal custody (the right to make major decisions about the child’s life) and physical custody (where the child lives). Various forms of sole and joint custody exist, as well as the determination of the visitation rights of one or the other parent. Child abuse can factor into this a couple of different ways:
- Loss of parental rights: A parent can lose their rights as a parent entirely in cases in which a parent has a history of cruelty, chronic child abuse, sexual abuse of a child, felony assault that leads to an injury of the child or the other parent, murder or attempted murder of the child, or murder or attempted murder of the other parent.
- Evaluation of the continuation of abuse: When a judge is evaluating custody, the judge is required to assess any instances of child abuse in the previous five years, and any indication that the abuse might continue. If it appears to the judge that the abuse is likely to continue, the judge will likely grant custody to the other parent.
A single instance of child abuse is not enough to disqualify a parent from receiving custody of the child unless it is severe. Usually, a pattern must be present that indicates danger for the child.
How to Protect Your Child
If you’re going through a divorce and you want to ensure that your ex-spouse doesn’t receive custody due to their history of abuse, a qualified Pennsylvania divorce attorney can help. It is essential to document a pattern of abuse and the fact that there is a significant likelihood that child abuse may continue if the other parent is awarded custody.
Children are our future, and nothing is more important than protecting them and helping prepare them to take over our world as they get older. At the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., our team understands child abuse law inside and out, and we can take all needed steps to ensure your child is protected. If you have any questions or don’t know what to do, call us today at (610) 645-0100 for a free consultation so we can help.