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When Does Questionable Parenting Become Child Abuse or Neglect?

For a divorced parent, releasing a child into the other parent’s care can be emotionally challenging and draining. When a parent disagrees with the other parent’s decision-making abilities and judgment, even a weekend-long visitation can be terrifying.

Understandably, parents faced with these types of ordeals often wonder if they can persuade the court to order supervised visits or curtail the other parent’s visitation rights. In other words, when does a parent cross the line from a bad decision to abuse or neglect?

Controversial Parenting

In 2013, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman decided to sail around the world with their two young daughters. According to reports from the Associated Press and the New York Times, the Kaufmans had been at sea for a year when their youngest child, one-year-old Lyra, became seriously ill. To make matters worse, the Kaufmans’ 36-foot sailboat began taking on water, preventing the family from reaching help on their own. In a coordinated effort between the U.S. Coast Guard and the California Air National Guard, several sailors and medical personnel reached the Kaufmans, stabilized Lyra, and transported the family to safety. The sailboat, which was too damaged to save, was deliberately sunk by the military.

Unsurprisingly, the Kaufmans’ decision to circumnavigate the globe with two toddlers in tow generated significant controversy.

In a separate story reported in 2014, a Texas dad drove his 16-year-old daughter to neighboring Oklahoma to celebrate her birthday with her very first skydive. Because Texas law requires skydivers to be at least 18 years old, father and daughter traveled to Oklahoma, where minors aged 16 and over can jump with a parent’s consent. When the girl’s parachute malfunctioned at 3,000 feet, she plummeted to the ground, suffering a broken pelvis and other serious injuries. Predictably, the father’s judgment came under considerable fire.

In a 2009 incident, mother and prominent attorney, Madlyn Primoff, was arrested on charges of child endangerment when she forced her two then-preteen daughters to walk home after they reportedly refused to stop fighting in the car. During the children’s three-mile walk, a passerby spotted the younger child crying and contacted the police. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against Primoff.

What Qualifies as Child Abuse or Neglect in Mississippi?

Many people have weighed in on the decision making and child-rearing abilities of the parents in these stories. Some child endangerment cases are clear cut and black and white. In those situations, it’s easy to know when a parent has committed a crime. When cases are much less obvious and borderline, however, how can we tell if a parent’s decisions place a child in jeopardy?

In Mississippi, Section 43-21-105 of the Mississippi Code defines an abused child as “a child whose parent, guardian or custodian or any person responsible for his care or support, whether legally obligated to do so or not, has caused or allowed to be caused upon said child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional abuse, mental injury, non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment.” Under state law, lack of supervision can be cause for a child neglect charge against a parent or caregiver.

Because the circumstances surrounding each case are unique, courts decide these matters on a case-by-case basis. Many times, social workers, guardians ad litem, and investigators are brought in to determine what happened and whether the parent’s actions rise to the level of child abuse or neglect.

Mississippi Divorce and Family Law

In family law and divorce cases, it’s not unusual for one parent to question the other parent’s parenting ability or judgment when it comes to looking after the best interests of the kids. Parents can avoid these conflicts by remaining open and honest with each other about the decisions they make regarding the health, welfare, and safety of their children.
At Rushing & Guice, P.L.L.C., we encourage all our clients to explore alternatives to contested divorce and other disputes. Call us today at (228) 374-2313 to discuss you case.