Responsibility to Protect Children from Abusive Co-Parents

Massachusetts law allows parents many rights in raising their children. However, parents also have responsibilities, including protecting children from abusive co-parents. This was illustrated by a recent Appeals Court case. In Adoption of Cecily, a mother’s parental rights were terminated after she was found to have left her child with the child’s father, knowing that he had inflicted severe injuries on the child in the past. Mass. App. Ct., No. 12-P-926 (June 7, 2013).

In this case, the mother left her infant daughter with her husband when her maternity leave ended and she returned to work. She came home one day and saw bruising on the infant’s cheek. The next day the parents brought the infant to the hospital for “fussiness” and irregular behavior. The infant had brain injuries and multiple broken bones. The infant’s grandmother told police and a grand jury that she had seen the father violently shaking the infant.

At trial, the grandmother’s testimony changed. She claimed that she had never seen the father be violent with the infant. The trial judge allowed the grandmother’s earlier testimony to be introduced as evidence that the father had been violent with the infant, and that the mother had witnessed the violence on at least two occasions.

The Appeals Court upheld the trial judge’s finding that the mother was unfit to parent infant Cecily, because she failed to acknowledge the evidence that the father had caused the infant’s injuries, and because the mother failed to separate from the abusive father.

In Massachusetts, parents have a responsibility to “recognize abuse and confront it preventatively.” Adoption of Lorna, 46 Mass. App. Ct. 134, 141 (1999). Failing to do so may be taken as a sign of parental unfitness. If you have concerns about the safety of a child, call the Child-At-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200. If you have questions about parental fitness, or parental rights and responsibilities, contact the attorneys at Hutchins Law, PC today.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.