Dear Carolyn,

I have two early teen children and left my ex over a year ago due to emotional abuse of myself and our son, and less so our daughter.

During the course of about six months he refused to let the kids indoors during visits (he stayed outdoors with them), including bad weather and temperatures. I was unaware this was happening, as neither child told me about it until one day when I picked them up, they had wet their pants since they had no access to the restrooms.

I was advised not to call CPS and instead terminate visits (since there were no orders) and to file a protection order, etc. Unfortunately, the attorney I hired did not file any of it for three months – at which point the ex’s attorney filed a cause hearing to resume visitation.

The kids have been in therapy a while, and when I notified the therapist of what happened, she interviewed them, and that was when I learned this wasn’t an isolated incident, that it had been going on for months. They said they were willing to testify to serious endangerment. A month later, the day before the hearing to restrict parenting time, my ex proposed visitation of twice weekly short visits and agreed to family therapy with the kids’ therapist – so the hearing was canceled.

Several more months passed, and despite many requests, ex continues to refuse to discuss or submit a permanent plan proposal. The kids are not doing well emotionally. As a pending trial date looms, the ex suddenly offered a parenting plan – thankfully maintaining short weekly visits.  However, he wants half of summer and half of all school holidays.

The kids are terrified of any extended times or even any overnights. I’m feeling pressured to agree to his plan. I don’t feel overnights are safe. My attorney isn’t saying what she thinks but forwarded a message from the ex’s attorney that implied if it goes to court he thinks ex will actually get more time!

How does “best interest of the child” vs. standard parenting plans work in this type of situation? How do I get the kids’ needs heard? Because their therapist is now saying that ex has been on his best behavior and they are no longer willing to testify to endangerment because it seems “better now.”


Carolyn Answers,

This is a bit of a strange fact pattern, I must admit. I do not understand why the father was keeping the teens outside.  

While it can be very hard on teens, teens are eligible to testify, and your attorney can call them as witnesses. If both attorneys agree, the testimony can be taken in the judge’s chambers if the judge is willing to do this. You could also ask that the teens have a guardian ad litem appointed to protect their interests. There is also the possibility of asking the court to appoint a psychologist to do a child custody evaluation, but this is late in the process to ask for this. That gives you three potential ways to get the feelings and emotionality of the children before the court: their testimony, a guardian ad litem, or a child custody evaluation, which would contain interviews of the children.

You also might get a second opinion from a family law specialist who regularly handles child custody cases. Also, feel free to write again if you want to explain the endangerment more. Being outside is not inherently dangerous, so what is the danger at father’s house? What is terrifying the teens? Writing this out may help you focus on needed facts for the trial.



Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions.  Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…”