It is not uncommon for a child to prefer one parent over the other. Having a favorite parent is a natural inclination and may even shift throughout childhood development. However, when it comes to divided custody, a parent who recognizes that their child is legitimately afraid of the other parent should take this issue very seriously.

Children who have grown up with both parents have likely formed strong bonds to both of them, but divorce can rock their world and cause kids of all ages to act out unpredictably. This sometimes leads to a child preferring to spend time with one parent over the other. Unfortunately, divorce proceedings can also trigger behaviors that indicate a child is scared of one parent for a different reason.

Potential Causes of Fear

Once you have noticed that your child seems to be afraid of their other parent, try to talk about it with them openly and honestly. Some children are more sensitive to discipline and criticism than others, and children are not adept at emotional interpretation. They may feel like one parent is stricter and firmer when it comes to rule enforcement than the other, and thus develop a preference for the more lenient parent, but this is different than clear signs of fear or concern.

Some of the reasons children may become afraid of a parent include abuse, neglect, or the parent’s treatment of others. For example, if one parent typically does most of the shouting during the parents’ arguments, this can be scary to a young child. In cases of neglect, a child may be afraid of being left alone with the neglectful parent because their needs will not be met. When a child has been abused in any way by a parent, this can be very difficult to unravel. The other parent must take protective action as quickly as possible.

Protections from Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence entails any type of harm done to a family or household member. A domestic violence case could involve parents, intimate partners, or a parent and child. If a child is scared of a parent due to past abuse, the other parent has a responsibility to keep the child safe from further abuse. The past abuse will also become a major factor in the parents’ divorce proceedings, so it is vital to collect as much evidence and testimony as possible.

The court takes allegations of child abuse and neglect very seriously. Once child abuse has been alleged, the court has a duty to take immediate action to prevent the behavior from continuing. If you believe your child is afraid of their other parent due to any kind of abuse, it is vital to consult an experienced Metro East family law attorney to determine the swiftest route to formal protection. Child protective services may come into play, and the court may appoint an investigator to determine if any abuse has occurred, and to what extent.

If your child’s other parent disputes that they have abused your children in any way, it is necessary to provide the court with as much evidence and documentation as possible. You and your child may need to go on the record with detailed accountings of past experiences, and the court may also order mental health evaluations for everyone involved. If you believe that you require immediate protection from your child’s other parent, your attorney can help you arrange a restraining or protective order.

How Does a Protective Order Work?

When the court determines that the children in a divorce case require protection from one of their parents, they will issue a protective order, sometimes called a restraining order. This order will go into effect on a temporary basis immediately; it can become a permanent order after a later hearing. This order will prevent an individual named in the order from contacting those protected by the order, and it may even require specific physical distancing terms as well.

If a parent believes they are facing a restraining order unjustly, they must seek legal counsel as soon as possible. This will prevent them from being bound by an unfair restraining order. Such action is especially important if their co-parent has levied false allegations against them. However, if the restraining order is necessary and valid, the parent bound by the order risks significant legal penalties if they violate any part of the order.

Potential Penalties for Violating Restraining Order

Once you have a restraining order in place to protect your children, you should report any violation of the order immediately. When your co-parent poses a legitimate threat to your child’s safety, take any violation of the restraining order very seriously. An individual who violates the terms of a protective order could face heavy legal fines, civil liability, and even jail time depending on the type and severity of the offense.

Violating a restraining order can also lead to diminished ability to argue for child custody rights or visitation in divorce proceedings. Even if the allegations that led to the restraining order were entirely false, it is best to seek a legal remedy to the situation instead of violating it and risking these severe penalties.

Future Changes to Your Divorce Decree

Once your divorce is finalized and you have a child custody arrangement with your children’s other parent, you might notice signs of fear, intimidation, and anxiety from your children as natural responses to their new realities. Some children will need more time to adjust than others, and the adjustment period can entail different factors for every child. Parents should remain vigilant for sudden changes in their children’s behavior and follow up on any suspicions of abuse or neglect as soon as possible.

Divorce can have many unpredictable effects on a family, and divorce is typically hardest for young children. While some signs of parental fear and anxiety may be natural responses to changing circumstances and children’s difficulty in accepting their parents’ marriages are ending, some of these signs could indicate deeper issues bubbling to the surface. An Illinois family law attorney is the best resource for any parent who is concerned for their children’s safety from a potentially abusive or negligent co-parent.