Emergency Ex-parte?

My daughter came home from her very first unsupervised visitation with her father in early August (about a week, although he violated our order and had her longer than intended) with large bruises all over her right leg/thigh, several smaller bruises on the rest of her body, and suddenly could not tolerate diaper changes and being cleaned up, and had begun withholding stool. She was extremely clingy and irritable too.

I took her to her pediatrician immediately upon return and based on the bruising, father’s explanation for the bruising, her uncharacteristic irritability, and hysteria when doctor tried to look in her diaper area, her pediatrician made a call to cps. She also called Duke’s child abuse center and spoke with a doctor there, as well as calling SAFE child. The doctor at Duke agreed with us that imaging for skeletal injuries was unnecessary based on her level of activity. I took her home and we began what would be a long process of trying to get her to stop withholding stool and able to tolerate diaper changes. Some things have partially resolved, other issues are ongoing and were recently made worse by a three-day visit mid-September.

Father and girlfriend maintain that she was perfectly fine during entire visits, did not withhold stool, did not cry during diaper changes (but they said she “squirmed” and needed to be distracted), and said the huge bruises on her leg were from dropping a large toy bus onto her leg from a sitting position. Father lives in PA btw and moved in with gf a few months ago, just a couple weeks prior to this first visitation. His girlfriend is a PA teacher and has a 6 year-old son. By all accounts the gf seems normal and until the summer visitation, I took great comfort in her presence. She has assured me many times that my daughter’s father is not abusive to her in any way and does not drink anymore.

My history with father is that he was an alcoholic (not anymore per his girlfriend though) and both verbally and physically threatened me on several occasions, as well as keeping me and my daughter against my will in his apartment in July 2019, which resulted in an emergency ex-parte order here in NC that I eventually dismissed. During the course of our very brief relationship at the end of 2017, he did many things which seemed “off” and at one point shared with me (while drunk) that he was previously accused of groping a 15 year-old’s breasts while working as a security guard at a girl’s home, or something of that nature. He has also done a lot of things to myself and my daughter (during visitation when I was there with her) that made me extremely uncomfortable, including trying to get my daughter to nurse on his nipples, telling me that he’d be the “romantic” parent, and I once caught him with his face in my daughter’s private area and when I confronted him about why he was doing that, he told me that he “loved the way she smelled like a baby.” He makes her kiss him on the mouth and at this point I’m not sure that I’m not just being overly paranoid. It’s always bothered me in my gut, the stuff he says and does, but I have no actual proof of anything.

Even still, it’s hard to imagine that he would actually (and immediately) begin sexually or physically abusing my daughter as soon as we’d privately settled our custody agreement. I had a background check done on him and it was clear. I emailed both he and his girlfriend and asked if my daughter had been with anyone else alone during visitation and they never responded.

I have not heard anything from cps and to my knowledge a case was not opened. I got the names of some therapists/psychologists from Johnston County CPS and I’m going to set up an appointment for my daughter to see if there’s anything I can do to help her. She does continue to withhold stool and cries hysterically during every single diaper change in which I have to wipe her. She clenches her knees together so strongly that my husband and I, together, cannot pry her legs apart to clean her vaginal area. I literally have to put her in the tub after she has bowel movements. I am able to clean her bum but she still cries hysterically. I’ve checked her while she’s sleeping and everything looks normal. I’m at a loss.

My questions is whether or not there is something I can do to request that visitation be paused until a professional therapist can assess my daughter. She’s only just turned two, so I’m not sure how effective this will be, but I’m desperate to help her move past whatever this is, even if I’ll never know what actually prompted this drastic change in her behavior. Her dad has “the right to visitation” for one weekend in October, although he recently told me he doesn’t intend to come down for it. Then he will have her next for 8 days over Christmas. Is there a process or something I can do?

Oh, I should also mention that I’ve not had to do facetime calls for a few weeks due to my phone having been broken. It’s fixed now, however I’ve held off on picking up the facetime calls again (lots of issues with that too.) I thought it might help my daughter to have a break from that and I was interested to see if it would help her get back to normal, because the first few facetimes she had after visitation she cried hysterically and ran from the phone. Only when father’s girlfriend came into the call, my daughter smiled and was better. Now, when I ask her if she is ready to see “Daddy Jason” she cries and says no.

Be sure to follow up with CPS to see the status or outcome of their investigation. Assuming you have entered into a permanent custody order (as opposed to a temporary custody order), then you can file a motion to modify the order upon a substantial change in circumstances affecting the wellbeing of your daughter. This would have to mean that these instances and patterns of behavior have come about after the permanent order was entered.

But the more evidence you have (CPS investigation, medical records, mental health records, professional testimony, etc.), the better chance you have at proving a substantial change in circumstances to modify a permanent order.

You will qualify for an emergency ex parte custody order if you can prove that your daughter is exposed to a substantial risk of sexual abuse. And again, the more evidence, testimony, etc. that you have, the better.

Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

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