The Things Kids Say: What to Do (Or Not Do) When the Kids Talk About Your Ex

Parent talking with child

You pick up the kiddos from the other parent to begin your timesharing. It’s been a few days since you’ve seen each other, so the kids are chatting away about this or that, when one of them says something that grabs your attention. Maybe it’s “Mommy’s new boyfriend is mean”. Or “Daddy got drunk at his friend’s house”.

You internally react, while trying hard not to show it. You smile and nod courteously, but inwardly you are furious at this report that the other parent has such disregard for the safety of the children.

There’s also the possibility that such statements will trigger memories of experiences you had with the other parent, which in turn triggers your honest feeling about the other parent.

You should carefully consider what to do with this information–if anything is to be done. New Mexico is a mandatory reporting state when it comes to the abuse and neglect of children, so if a child discloses to an adult that they have been abused or neglected, that adult has an affirmative duty to make a report to the state’s Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD).

New Mexico is also an anonymous reporting state, which means that it is ripe for use as a tool of harassment against one or the other parent. Anonymous reports can come from people ranging from grandparents to a teacher, a service provider, a checker at the grocery store, a new partner, or the other parent.

Once that report is made, an investigation must occur.

The harm created by mandatory anonymous reporting is a topic for another blog, but the reader should know that we have clients who have grown accustomed to expecting one or two false reports to the CYFD per year. They’re always ready for that next knock on the door.

So, if you believe the other parent has abused or neglected your children, you should report it to CYFD. But remember that not everyone shares your definition of abuse or neglect.

What Is Abuse and/or Neglect in Child Custody?

Not taking the child to the doctor when the child needs to go to the doctor is neglect. Not feeding them is neglect but sending them to bed without dinner is not. Locking them out of your house is abuse but letting them go outside without a jacket is not–even if you wouldn’t let them go outside without a jacket.

Striking a child with an object as discipline is almost always going to be viewed as abusive, but grounding or taking the phone away is not, even if you disagree with that punishment. Any physical contact as a means of discipline should be avoided for the reasons presented in a previous blog regarding spanking children in New Mexico.

Let’s put it this way–abuse and neglect should be fairly obvious to anyone who sees it. If you have to explain how the other parent’s actions are abusive or neglectful, then it’s quite possible that those actions do not rise to the level necessary to meet the legal definition of abuse and/or neglect.

Now, some cases are obvious. If your son tells you, “Dad got mad and punched me in the face,” and he has visible injuries to prove it, or if you daughter tells you that Mother’s boyfriend had sexual contact with her, then it’s an easy decision to call CYFD.

But if your young son says that the other parent lets him watch R-rated movies, what do you do with that? You have no control over what happens at the other parent’s home any more than they have control over what happens at your home.

Courts are only there for the things you and the other cannot agree on. The court is very unlikely to do anything about the other parent letting the child watch R-rated movies unless it is in the context of much more substantial failings by that parent.

Another example is “Daddy took us to the shooting range”. Unless you have a court order specifically prohibiting this activity, it is perfectly legal for the other parent to do so, even if the activity scares you. Courts expect parents to rise above their feelings toward one another, their differences of opinion on various activities, and together make decisions in the best interests of their children. If you want to argue that taking a child shooting is an example of the other parent failing to act in the child’s interest, then you will be sorely disappointed when the judge does nothing with it.

Courts used to allow for a refusal to co-parent–defined as sharing in decision-making on topics where the parents disagree– to be used as grounds for one of the parents to seek sole legal custody. If the parents together cannot reach agreement, then one needs to be the decision-maker.

More recently however, the courts have been looking at the concept of “parallel parenting.” This is the idea that both parents may have appropriate homes but with very different worldviews, priorities, and morals.

Under the Parallel Parenting concept, as long as basic items are established (city of residence, school, doctor, dentist, religion, extra-curricular activities), the courts are not going to go into either parent’s home and order them to share the other parent’s values.

Always remember that whatever your children are saying happened at the other parents’ house is not something you personally witnessed. Trusting your child at their word is one thing, but repeating the statements of a child is not evidence in a court of law.

Ask Yourself Hard Questions

It’s also important to ask yourself some hard questions–have you created an atmosphere (perhaps unintentionally) of making the children feel like saying anything good about the other parent would be unwelcome? Do the children believe they can make you happy by saying bad things about the other parent?

Under these circumstances it’s not hard for “Dad having two beers” to turn into “Dad got drunk” in the eyes of a ten-year-old.

The unfortunate reality is that a vast number of parents in custody cases genuinely and profoundly dislike one another. That emotional reaction is understandable and human. It also has to be honestly factored in when kids come home from the other parent’s house saying troubling things. Find people who you trust–not just that they’re on your side, but that they will tell you what you need to hear. Which might be to just let this incident go .

There are consequences to bringing concerns to the court that won’t stand up under objective legal analysis. These actions can paint you in an unfavorable light in the eyes of the court and could end up giving you ex an advantage if they decide to pursue full custody–ironically, the exact opposite of what you hoped would happen.

At Sandia Family Law, we have a wealth of personal knowledge and experience practicing and litigating before the family court judges and hearing officers. We pride ourselves on fighting hard for our clients’ best interests. Sometimes those best interests are served by telling hard truths that are uncomfortable to hear. But at least our clients hear it from someone they can trust and before anything works against them in a court of law. Call us today at (505) 544-5126 or contact us online for a consultation and put our wealth of knowledge and experience to work for you.

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