Q: Hi, I'm 19 years old and I've been married since 2018. My husband has been threatening to leave me for months and now I'm about 6 weeks pregnant. He kicked me out last week and I moved back in with my parents. He said he's going to file for divorce.
Now, he has contacted me and says he wants to come to all of my doctor's appointments. I don't want him there. He has threatened to tell Child Protective Services that I'm not taking care of myself. I have never smoked, drank alcohol or done drugs. I'm taking prenatal vitamins and taking care of myself. Is there anything I can do to keep him out of my life? -B.
I’m sorry you’re going through this. Pregnancy isn’t the easiest thing to go through for a lot of women and to have someone you once loved and trusted harassing while you’re trying to grow a healthy human being can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
It’s unclear if your husband has a history of abuse, but it sounds like his behavior since the split is abusive. Threats, attempts to control you and demands to be or know where you are (aka, stalking) are all abuse tactics, especially if you ask him to stop (which I’m sure you have) and he continues doing them.
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First off, you and you alone get to decide who, if anyone, is with you at your doctor’s appointments and in the delivery room when the baby is born (because courts have said that parental rights don’t begin until after childbirth). He does not have any legal rights to be in either of these places or have access to your medical records unless you have signed a release form, something that you can rescind if you’ve done so in the past. Check with your doctor on their privacy policies and make sure you’ve signed the proper forms to keep your pregnancy health information private.
While your husband may file a petition to establish custody and visitation now, the courts won’t hear it until the baby is born, so you don’t need to worry about that just yet. In some states, he may have the right to sign the birth certificate, but that still doesn’t mean he gets to come into the delivery room unless you allow it.
On that note, make sure your doctor’s office knows you are separated or, if you so choose, if there is an order of protection against the baby’s father (we’ll get to that in a second), in case he tries to call or even stop in, pretending to be the doting husband. (Abusers can be very charming when they need to be.)
Secondly, these threats he’s making to report you to CPS are nothing more than a manipulative way to try and exert power and control. This kind of thing can fall under the categories of emotional abuse or coercive control. CPS does not have any jurisdiction over unborn children, a fact I confirmed with defense attorney Christine Umeh with Still She Rises, a public defender office that exclusively represents mothers in criminal and civil court cases in Tulsa, Okla.
“It would not be in their jurisdiction—they’re not authorized to deal with preborn children,” Umeh told me. “The most they could do is put a flag on it so if hospital personnel had a reason to check in on her, they would see that she has a CPS referral and do an initial investigation.”
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Now, that may sound scary, but you can prepare for that. If you believe your husband will call CPS under false pretenses, you may want to consider filing an order of protection now, not only to protect you from any other harassing behavior, which may escalate, but also to show a history of behavior from your husband that’s made you feel unsafe. After your baby is born, you can amend the order to also include your child, says Umeh.
Make sure you’re documenting any other incidents of harassment or any other threats your husband makes against you. This record can help your case if CPS comes to your door after the baby is born, and it’ll also help you in custody court. While calls to CPS can be anonymous, if there is any way to prove your husband is falsely reporting you, this can be filed under harassment in some states, says Umeh.
However, Umeh also warns that CPS can pop in unannounced at any time, so, “even if everything is going well [with the baby], you’d hate to be caught on the wrong day.” She advises you to make sure you’re not missing any doctor’s appointments for your baby, and make sure the home where the baby is staying won’t raise any red flags. CPS likes to see enough food in the house for 24 hours, smoke detectors, baby-proofing, appropriate sleep settings, a list of emergency contacts on the wall, that kind of thing, says Umeh.
Finally, make sure you’re taking care of yourself—get enough sleep, try to exercise daily—even if it’s just a relaxing walk around the neighborhood—eat clean, nutritious food and talk to someone about what’s going on—a friend, a counselor or even a domestic violence advocate at a local hotline. High stress during pregnancy can increase your risk of preterm birth. Here are 10 ways to minimize stress during divorce.
After your baby arrives, watch for signs of postpartum depression, or PPD, which moms who are subjected to abuse while pregnant are three times more likely to experience. You can find more on that in “Postpartum Depression Linked to Domestic Violence.”
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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