child may be in danger; what is my responsibility here?
August 4, 2022 7:38 AM   Subscribe

I need help navigating a difficult situation involving the welfare of a child whose parents currently have joint custody. I have anonymized several details here for privacy reasons but the story overall should convey my concerns.

I used to date this guy, let's call him Bill. Bill was newly divorced at the time and in no place to be in a serious relationship. I was pretty inexperienced at the time and didn't see the red flags. (I've since done a lot of research on trauma bonding, love bombing and narcissistic personalities and know what to look out for.) The relationship was intense and toxic. I called it off when I learned he was cheating on me the entire time we were together and have not talked to him since. This was four years ago at this point. He has since apologized to me, via a written letter, but I never responded. I've since moved to a new town an hour away from him.

I got a desperate call from Bill a few days ago. I had blocked him everywhere but I guess he went to LinkedIn and then my company's website and called me on my work number (I work from home). It seems he's had a rough time of it since I last interacted with him - a narcissistic girlfriend who put him through the wringer (karma, hah!) and then filed an order of protection against him for... maybe spurious reasons? Maybe not? I don't know. He lied to me a lot before and I'm sure I'm not getting the full story. This woman claimed she felt emotionally unsafe living with him as he was mentally unstable. She stopped paying her half of their lease and fled. He fought back in court and won, but lost a lot of money in legal fees, fell into deep depression, lost his job, lost his apartment, and is currently subletting and trying to get his shit together in therapy.

Whatever else can be said about this ex-girlfriend, she's right: he is very emotionally unstable. He ranted to me hysterically for an hour about the state of his life and finances and how much he hated the ex-girlfriend. He recently got a DUI (which doesn't surprise me as he was a straight up alcoholic when I was with him). His ex-wife doesn't trust him fully when their child is with him. He is paranoid that people are coming after him, he hears pounding on the door, he thinks his phone has been tapped, his car has been bugged, maybe someone is hiding in the trunk lying in wait for him? Honestly it sounds like he is hallucinating. His ex wife has taken primary custody of the child while he sorts our his finances. He was drunk when he called, which didn't help his coherence. Then he threatened suicide, and told me his plan, and that he was going to do it early the next morning. Lucid as hell.

I have a history of mental illness and suicidal ideation. I have been hospitalized for this. In retrospect this was a bad idea, but when he told me he was going to take his own life I panicked, stopped working, and drove to see him. I'm a softie, I'm an idiot, I'm naive maybe, but we were friends once and I've lost friends and a parent to suicide and I just wanted to see how bad it was because I'm worried about his kid.

Seeing him in person was shocking. He is a mess. His house is a mess. He has aged ten years since I last saw him. He immediately wanted to have sex, which I put a stop to. I sat down and listened to him talk. More paranoia, more delusions, more suicide talk. He couldn't cover his rent and was afraid he'd be evicted. He refused to believe me when I said eviction doesn't happen overnight. He was afraid to ask his family for help - he thinks they want to "get" him too. He said if he can't pay rent by tomorrow he's definitely going to kill himself. I basically had to commandeer his phone to call his brother, who is aware that he is unwell, and stand over him to force him to ask for help. Bill's brother was sad this was happening but was happy to Venmo him rent money, as I knew he would be (I know the brother, he is a good egg). Bill is not going to be homeless. He calmed down a little. Stopped talking about suicide that night but said he wasn't going to rule it out. He was drinking straight from the bottle. I got him to bed, slept on the couch, got coffee and food in him in the morning, and went home.

The thing is, even when he was sober in the morning he was still ranting about imaginary people coming to get him. He said that despite it being a condition of joint custody he does drink when he has his kid with him. He would not stop with the paranoid ranting. He is in a very bad way. I'm not a doctor but I really think he's suffering from hallucinations and not being honest with his therapist about it.

I left and came home and have been agonizing over this whole ordeal since. I am not a mandated reporter in any way shape or form but based on his behavior I do not think his child is safe with him alone.

I don't know what to do. I do not want to get sucked back in Bill's orbit. I've blocked him from my work phone and asked our office manager to never put calls from him through to me again. But I really feel like his ex wife should know what's going on, especially as she already is concerned about leaving their child with him alone. I don't want to make Bill's life worse, but I just found out I am pregnant (with my current partner) and the idea of a child being in the presence of an adult who may not be safe has me reeling. Maybe it's hormones? My spidey sense won't stop telling me that I need to reach out to her. If I were in her position I would want to know. But, for the sake of my sanity and the safety of my pregnancy I don't want to get dragged into some legal proceeding involving Bill if I contact his ex wife.

What the hell should I do? Is this none of my business and I should leave well alone? I feel like Bill made this my business when he called me. I also feel pretty dumb for having gone to see him but I was scared and well, I can't take it back now.

I know Bill's ex wife a bit. We have many mutual friends. We get along. I think she would trust me and not think I'm a kook trying to stir the pot. But is it my place to do this or not? I really fucking don't know. My conscience says yes but maybe my conscience is a busybody? How do I balance my own desire to set a boundary with Bill and the potential danger to his child?

Fuck I just do not know what to do. Please give me some guidance. My partner knows what happened and is equally at a loss.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total)
There is a LOT here so I'm just going to address the direct question about the kid.

Make an anonymous call to your region's version of child protective services. Their job is to investigate, and they know what they are doing for the most part. Make that your last contact with or about any of these people and do what you need to do to ensure they don't have access to contact you.

The upside of this is that CPS will not just take kids away but will do so with a plan to help reunification, so they may be able to help Bill get the help he needs. And best case, they take kids out of a dangerous situation. But again, that's their call, not yours to make. Your call to make is to report it. They may dismiss this as lack of evidence to even make a house call, but again, not your problem.

Untangle yourself from these people.
posted by archimago at 7:46 AM on August 4 [29 favorites]

I would call her right away. Feel her out a tiny bit first to see if she's fair minded and decent. If she is, tell her what you saw. Tell her what he said about killing himself. Tell her everything.

(The stuff about venmo and rent and whatever isn't the point. The point is that the guy is unhinged and talking about suicide AND focused on how much he hates his ex. That's a combination that has resulted in many, many murders of women and children.)

Then, ask her to please not bring you up at all as she proceeds in whatever she's going to do. Remind her you called her our of concern for her baby's safety, and you're asking her to be concerned for your safety in return. Ask her not to mention you ever.

And then block on all channels.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:47 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]

I'm a mandated reporter and talk to child services at least 3 times a week. Sure, you can call and tell them what you want. It will be screened.

More importantly...

Is this none of my business and I should leave well alone?

Yes. A million times yes. This is so not your business in any way, shape or form that words do not suffice. Giant red freaking flags suffice. Seeing him was indeed a mistake but that's okay. We all make mistakes but now every single inner voice is screaming at you to walk away.

Stay away. Block him.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:49 AM on August 4 [29 favorites]

His ex wife has taken primary custody of the child while he sorts out his finances.

I do not want to get sucked back in Bill's orbit.

Is this none of my business and I should leave well alone?

These three pull quotes kind of tell the story. His ex-wife almost certainly knows he isn't well and is doing what she can. This is a mess that has nothing to do with you and could easily swallow you if you try to insert yourself into it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:50 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]

I would reach out to Bill's ex-wife and his brother if you have his contact information. Emphasize to them at the end/middle of the call that you don't think it's your place to get heavily involved in this but that you feel that it was imperative to let them know. Once they are fully in the loop, unless something new and bizarre shows up literally at your door you can pretty much step away.

I think you did the right thing. There are times when all the stuff about staying in one's own lane, something not being your rodeo, fear of overstepping, etc, need to be set aside - those are rubrics for ordinary, middle of the road problems, not "this guy is hallucinating and actively suicidal".

If any of my exes were hallucinating and actively suicidal I would absolutely notify anyone I could.
posted by Frowner at 7:53 AM on August 4 [34 favorites]

His ex-wife almost certainly knows he isn't well and is doing what she can.

I don't know about this. She's probably minimizing contact herself and his deterioration may have been fairly recent.

The only reason I'm hesitating to say you should call her and tell her briefly (and then take no calls from anyone except her lawyer) is that if Bill realizes you spoke to her, it may actually be unsafe for you. But even then...this is not a question of personal drama, this is about his home not being at all a safe environment for a child. "Primary custody" doesn't mean no visits at all. You can't just stand by. Do what fingersandtoes suggests--especially the part about insisting she not mention you. But be braced for some blowback.
posted by praemunire at 7:56 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

It is not your business, but it is also not a bad thing that you feel the urge to help - this is a risky situation for at least your ex, if not his ex-gf and her child. But you cannot get too invested or sucked into the chaos of his life; a compromise plan for you would be to reach out to the Child Protective Services hotline for your state and describe this situation to them. Do not contact his ex-gf, do not stay in contact with your ex or his family. Notify the professionals, and let them handle it how they will. Do not get any deeper into it than this.
posted by obliterati at 8:03 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Contact his wife. It's okay to get in touch with his brother as well. Take some notes first so you can convey all that you need to say. Suicidal intentions, belief that family are out to get him. General paranoia, including the imaginary people. Drinking when child is with him.

Then walk away.
posted by wryly at 8:04 AM on August 4

You know this woman. You know that this woman's child may not be safe with their dad.

I would keep a phone call brief and clear - "hey, I had this very upsetting interaction with your ex recently, and I am concerned about your kid. I realize that I am inserting myself in what must be a pretty fraught relationship and I'm so sorry, but I really want you to have the information you need to keep your kid safe."

In a not very similar situation, I have found it deeply embarrassing to have outsiders know what's going on in my family. But. It's their kid's life.

After that brief conversation I would stop engaging with Bill (like, nuke his number from orbit, it's the only way to be sure) but consider taking calls from his ex and his brother, as long as they were not harassing or angry.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:07 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]

When the safety of a kid is at stake you have to suck it up. The consequences of assuming it will be okay could be catastrophic. I'd contact CPS and the child's mother (and really not enjoy either action) and tell them both in a few short sentences that Bill is drinking uncontrollably, suicidal, out of touch with reality and frightened you. I'd ask the child's mother to not tell him you contacted her and double check with CPS that they would not tell Bill either.

I would contact them both to make sure neither of them drops the ball.

And once I did that I would not take any calls or messages whatsoever from Bill.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:07 AM on August 4 [12 favorites]

Because a child's life is on the line, I think you have a moral duty, at minimum, to call CPS ASAP.

There is, in my view, more of a moral gray area about contacting ex wife directly. This decision whether to make contact or not with the ex can be made (a bit) later.

Also, please keep yourself safe!
posted by oceano at 8:08 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]

Reach out to either his ex wife or CPS (whichever would be safer for you) and if possible reach out to one other person in his life that he is close to (if you know such a person). This is to ensure that the child's caregivers know that objective third parties who have had recent contact with him are alarmed about his obvious instability, and so that someone who is on "his" side can do the necessary safety things re: his suicidal ideation.

After that, please block everything from everyone and put this out of your mind and go on with your life. My advice is to treat this situation as literally the same as if you saw a vagrant on the streets behaving the same way. In their case you would inform someone to ensure their safety and inform someone to ensure their child's safety. Then you would move on and not carry it with you for the rest of the week or even the rest of the day. You would not consider any of this to be your business in any way. There would be no question of you getting sucked into the orbit of the vagrant's life. That's how you should be dealing here.
posted by MiraK at 8:12 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to contact the ex-wife anonymously? I agree that you want to stay as far away from all of this as possible, but yeah, your information would be useful. Maybe send a letter with no return address?
posted by kevinbelt at 8:22 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Absolutely tell someone. Many years ago I got a call from a college friend telling me about the situation of a mutual college friend, who was attempting to work full-time while leaving his toddler son in the care of his schizophrenic wife because he literally could not see how dangerous and inappropriate that was because his wife was not medicated and was completely unable to care for her child.

It wasn’t until both the person who called me and I lobbied our mutual friend and I flew up to visit him and stay in the house and to discuss it with him that our mutual friend finally recognized the reality of the situation. This is a different situation in that you don’t want to get involved but a similar situation in that a child is in danger. I would call CPS. I would not do it anonymously in case they had further or additional questions. I would ask for reassurances about your anonymity as the source of the information.

My dad got referred to adult protective services three separate times and they always refused to tell me who reported him. (I honestly only wanted to know so I could thank them because my dad insisted on living alone and I had no way of telling from several states over if he was OK or not.)

This situation is horrifying. I applaud your question and encourage you to report the situation fully and honestly to the folks who are employed to worry about this stuff. You don’t know what the situation is with the mom. This way, you give your burden over to the professionals and then go on your way. It feels cleaner and less personal to me, but of course your mileage may vary.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:42 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]

I would start with CPS personally, because of his paranoia and possible psychotic symptoms. Be sure you don't just mention the drinking while solo parenting but also the facts of what he said and did that make it appear he could be hallucinating. Whether from mental illness or drugs (because drugs do that too), you are correct that the child is probably not safe.

In theory, telling the ex would work BUT the fact there is a custody thing, if she pursues it, it might appear more like a he said she said issue. If an outsider makes an anonymous tip then anything the ex wife has to add to the narrative might be taken more seriously.

It's not your job to fix Bill's life or spare him the consequences of his own choices. When I talk to others that like to rescue people (or feel like they should rescue) sometimes I point out that it's actually kinder, overall, to stay back so that person can learn from their experiences. If we soften the blows of their consequences they don't have the same drive to change that they might have otherwise. So if you're trying to be compassionate, consider the bigger picture maybe.

I agree with everyone else to not speak to Bill again and if he calls talking about suicide just call 911 and send them over. It can be traumatic dealing with emergency services if you're suicidal but (a) he's isolated and could use the outside assessment, and (b) he sounds like he might also be talking about it to be manipulative.

I fucking hate it when people use suicide threats as a manipulation so in my opinion, they are inviting the difficulties that may arise from interfacing with authorities about it. If it's legit SI then they get access to care and if it's not legit SI they learn they can't do that to you. Do not let him pull you in like that if you end up talking to him again.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:46 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]

My thought is that the people in his life may or may not be taking this seriously enough - sometimes people in the throes of mania/paranoia/etc are able to hold it together around loved ones, sometimes the onset is so gradual that family and close friends don't really see how bad it is, etc. And CPS is a mixed bag. I would not want CPS to be the only resource here because while there are good CPS case workers and offices, there are many, many famous situations where CPS just....leaves a kid with an obviously dangerous parent. I think that it is worthwhile to emphasize to family and ex-wife that things aren't just sorta bad and sorta weird but really, actively dangerous so that they are able to take steps beyond just relying on CPS.
posted by Frowner at 8:53 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]

Call CPS. Please do not call his ex-wife. There is a non-zero chance that she becomes so enraged that she confronts Bill and mentions your name as proof of his actions. If you have mutual friends with his ex-wife, that's one step away from mutual friends with him, and this man who managed to get your work phone number may be highly motivated to use whatever resources to find your new address.
posted by Adifferentbear at 8:57 AM on August 4 [13 favorites]

It is rare for CPS involvement to benefit children or families when the child's life is not in imminent danger. I think it is likely that the mother knows the situation and is doing her best to keep the child safe without CPS involvement. But just in case she doesn't know, get in touch, describe what you saw, wish her the best, and let her know that you will no longer be involved in the situation. She can take it from there and call CPS herself if she thinks that is the best route.
posted by metasarah at 9:00 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

The child was not in the home at the time? I would leave it alone, it is none of your business, and obviously cut off all contact with Bill.

We don't know the specifics of the custody arrangement or if he's seeing the kids outside of a heavily supervised setting. Right now frankly it seems you haven't seen him with the kids and have no evidence he's still seeing them. Contacting the ex-wife could be a minefield.

I don't know what you'd report to CPS as you don't have evidence he even has contact with them. If anything if he tries to make contact with you by threatening suicide or otherwise call 911, he already has one protection order against him I'd start working on getting one setup to protect yourself.
posted by geoff. at 9:02 AM on August 4

You should definitely never talk to Bill again.

I've had friends in this situation, where they know full well the other parent is serious bad news but have no choice but to force their child to be alone with them because the severity of the situation is not visible yet to their custody judge. They basically have to wait for the shit to hit the fan, and that shit is normally a CPS report or the police becoming involved because of some incident.

If this woman was one of my friends who've been through this, I would beg you to call and tell her you've had a run-in with Bill and ask if you can be useful to her case in some way because you are concerned about the safety of her child. Maybe she says no, he's done this shit in front of the judge and it didn't matter. Maybe she says yes, please, nobody else wants to get involved.

You could contact CPS instead, and that will maybe keep you out of it directly, but there can be blowback on the mother. Cops aren't anybody's friend, CPS are cops, CPS is a deeply flawed systemically racist and misogynist system with a pipeline to a foster system that is even more deeply flawed and can do tremendous harm in the course of "just" a 24-hour temporary custody. But sometimes that is the only way to get a judge to pay attention.

Honestly it does not sound like Bill is competent enough to harm you beyond maybe incoherent telephone harassment of your employer, which he could decide to do no matter what you do. I personally would be willing to take that risk and would sleep pretty well at night. Even if he kills himself deliberately or inadvertently, I'd rather have done something with the information I had than not done anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 AM on August 4 [9 favorites]

Bill is in a mental health crisis. He is an addict who is credibly considering suicide. He needs mental health care far more than he needs rent money, and he needs it right now.

Yes, you should alert his ex-wife and co-parent that he is in crisis. He should not be in charge of his child right now. If she doesn't seem yo understand that, then call Child Protective Services. She's an okay parent, right? They can block him from having the child in his care until he is able to care for the child again.

Then you should call his brother and the police, state that he is credibly considering suicide as well as making less credible threats to his ex-wife, and let them take it from there. This is what you should do because he's a person, and we should try to help people in crisis. Then walk away and if he contacts you again, call the police, which is what I would have recommended in the 1st place. I can't vouch for the effectiveness of the police, but in most communities, that's the available resource. You acted out of human decency, but this is way bigger than you can deal with effectively.

Congratulations on your own news; I hope you have an easy pregnancy and a happy baby.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]

What Frowner said. Call the ex. This poor kid has a piece of work for a dad and needs a bit of grace. Then exit with peace of mind.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:55 AM on August 4

To look at this from a slightly different angle, I would be very careful what you are teaching Bill. He has now learned the lesson that even after you have blocked him everywhere for years, if he manages to make contact, you will attend to him. Intermittent reinforcement is the strongest type of reinforcement. I am really worried for you that a maniac may see you as his last hope in the world in a very literal way. He stalked you! I don't think he's incapable, I think he is actually pretty determined to get in touch with you, and he succeeded. If you put up an Amazon wishlist with The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, shoot me a memail and I'll send it to you.

With that in mind, I think contacting the ex is too big a risk. She could use you as a foil, give Bill another avenue of contact, or lash out at you as the messenger. As imperfect as CPS is, I think that's your only reasonable option. Write down the facts, without guessing or editorializing. "He was intoxicated and thinks his phones are tapped and he's being followed. He told me he was going to kill himself on X day with Y method. He said he has visitation with the children Z days per month." Etc. Also write down the names of the parents and children, phone numbers, and any physical addresses you have. It's not your responsibility to determine the veracity of the risk or investigate beyond what you've done. You don't need to speculate. I have been involved in youth programs for many years and those are the recommendations for reporting. Mandatory reporting is only a legal concept, morally, I feel we are all mandatory reporters. Good luck. This is really hard.
posted by wnissen at 10:00 AM on August 4 [21 favorites]

It does not appear as if there is an obvious appropriate course of action. To be honest, I do not know what I would do in your situation. With no particular endorsement or condoning of the idea, there is a third way. You said that Bill's brother is a good and reasonable man. Perhaps contact him, thank him for helping out the other night and then tell him briefly of your concerns for the child. Presumably, he has more information than you regarding the child and that child's situation. Express your concerns to him and add that you are stepping away from the situation forever. Ask him to consider what is the best course of action and for him to take it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:30 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

I would caution against contacting the ex- I think it's unlikely she is unaware, and I also think there's a chance that she will not receive your call well. You said you contacted the brother and I think that's good.

I am a mandated reporter, and while I fully recognize that CPS sometimes is bad or damaging, I have experience reporting things: first of all, they will take any report of suspected abuse. Then then decide whether they have enough information to investigate. If they do, they will go and check things out and most of the time they do not remove kids from homes but will recommend interventions of some kind and check back periodically.
posted by bearette at 10:37 AM on August 4

oops, I'm sorry! you said you and the ex are friends and she trusts you. In that case, I probably would say something to her.
posted by bearette at 10:42 AM on August 4

I'm going to go against the grain here and say not your circus, not your monkeys. If this guy is as unstable as he appears, you should absolutely not entangle yourself in his divorce or custody battle. I know it's hard because there's a child involved, but sometimes we need to recognize that there's nothing that we can do to fix a situation and trust that the system will work as it should. There are other people whose job it is to deal with this.

If you feel you absolutely must to do something, which is understandable, call CPS or its equivalent in your area to make a report, then move on.

I see nothing good coming of continued interaction with him, his former partner, his brother, or anyone else. I would absolutely not write an anonymous letter or otherwise reach out to his family or ex. Under no circumstances should you go to his house again.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:49 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]

I'm going to take this a step farther. He sounds extremely delusional and unstable, and I would not trust that the child is safe in his care. His ex-wife may blame you for any fallout, so I would not contact her, but I would absolutely call CPS.

And if I was aware that he had temporary physical custody of the child I would seriously consider calling 911. You can do this anonymously.
posted by citygirl at 11:00 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]

The person most in danger here is Bill, not his child. Bill is experiencing an acute mental health crisis. I would contact his ex-wife and the brother, whom you already were in touch with, and say "I think this is a level 10 emergency, I'm worried about his safety and his connection to reality. I don't want to be involved beyond this, but I needed to be sure you were both aware of what's up." After that, build up your wall and keep it firm.

Do not call CPS; that will involve the mom, who by all indications is doing her best and is keeping her child away from him. CPS is more likely to do harm than good, and Bill's child is *not in his care,* which means there is not an immediate threat.
posted by Charity Garfein at 11:03 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]

If it was me I would:
1) Write down this story again, more briefly and in bullet point form. Only include the bullet points that would be important for a judge or child welfare social worker to know: (example: "I met with Bill on [date]. During that visit I observed the following: - Bill expressed suicidal thoughts 3 times, he expressed that he has a plan 1 time. - Bill shared that he drinks alcohol while caring for his child. - His presentation was disorganized, repeatedly expressing non-rational thoughts. [etc]"
2) Once you have written this down, I would make 2-3 calls: One to Child Protective Services, one to the ex wife, possibly one to the brother.
3) Start and end the calls with the fact that you are concerned for the child's well being, so you are passing on this information, but that you will not be available to discuss further [except maybe with CPS] and you need to protect your own well being and need the ex & brother to respect your boundaries about that. Consider calling the ex and brother from a number that is not your personal phone number.
4) Share the information you have written down in a direct and factual way. Avoid ongoing conversation. Make a commitment to yourself in advance that you will not be agreeing to any follow up with the ex or the brother.
5) Never speak to any of these folks again in future. Block dude's number on your phone and consider alerting your HR dept that this unstable person knows where you work. Do let trustworthy support people such as close friends or trusted coworkers know what's going on.

This all sounds incredibly frightening, triggering, and stressful. Give yourself a break for a few days after all this goes down.
posted by latkes at 11:05 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]

I agree with those saying you should contact the ex-wife and brother, especially since it sounds like you once had a more or less positive relationship with both of these people, and you trust them. Keep it brief and factual - you've been given some good scripts. I'd just explain how urgent you see the situation, and then list off all of the pieces of evidence you have for that sense of urgency (not just suicidal ideation but a plan for it, binge drinking, hallucinations, paranoia, etc.) Given the state Bill is in, it does not sound like it will be hard for the brother or ex-wife to gather their own evidence of the problem. As some mentioned, not only is Bill's life in danger, but so his the life of his kid and his ex-wife (and potentially innocent bystanders).
posted by coffeecat at 11:44 AM on August 4

I would:
Call his child's mom, so she can protect the child.
Call CPS, if I got even a hint that the mom would give Bill any unsupervised access to the child within the next couple years.
Call the brother, so he can try to help his sibling (that helps the ex get out of Bill's orbit because the brother is dealing with it).

Tell them all exactly what Bill said about suicide, his substance use when with the child, and his hallucinations.

Then vanish and don't take calls from any of them ever again. Good for you for getting out of that whirlpool. Don't get sucked back in.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:42 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

I would not call CPS because things can go super askew with them and they might end up checking in on the mother. If "primary custody" means the kid isn't in his care, then don't call CPS. I would reach out to the brother, if you can, and say you are concerned about Bill, and then don't be in touch with Bill at all again.

Here's what I would do about the kid: I would write up a super basic, unemotional report of what happened, fact based, without any extra information. This isn't to share with her necessarily, but to get it all on paper while it's still fresh. So something like (editing from your version):

Bill and I dated from [month & year] to [month & year] when I lived in TOWN. We have not spoken since [approximate date] and I had blocked him from contacting me. I received a phone call from Bill at work on [date]. He sounded drunk and expressed concern that people were pounding on his door, his phone had been tapped, and people were hiding in his trunk. He also communicated a detailed suicide plan. I was concerned enough to drive to his house. I was concerned with what I found. His house was [example of messiness]. His appearance was quite disheveled. He spoke more of suicide and what sounded like paranoid delusions was also concerned about not paying the rent. I convinced him to call his brother, who sent money for rent. Throughout this time, Bill continued to drink liquor from a bottle. He went to slept and I stayed on the couch. In the morning, I got some coffee and food for him and he seemed sober. He still spoke about people coming to get him. He also shared that he drinks when his child is with him even though he isn't supposed to. I returned home. I do not wish to be in further contact with Bill but I am concerned about his safety and the safety of his child especially.

Then I'd say you can consider if you want to share this with his brother (if you still have contact information for him) and his ex-wife. If you can reach out to his ex-wife, I would say all this and not necessarily write it down. Same with the brother.

I would think his family should take care of the mental health issues and the ex-wife can figure out the kid stuff.

You say you don't want to be dragged into this, but if she went to court to ask for custody, would you be willing to talk to the judge if she asked?

Until you contact the brother and mother, I would not go through CPS. Like, that is truly the last step. It sounds like his brother is concerned and the mother knows enough to have the kid with her more, so start with those folks. The concern with CPS is that they might remove the child and not bring the child to the mother or any family member.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:30 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

If this situation is serious enough for the OP to get involved at all, it is serious enough to merit a call to CPS. If this isn't a "last resort" scenario, then it's something that others are more qualified to deal with.

Either it's dangerous enough for OP to intervene, in which case CPS should be notified, or it's not serious enough to require a call to CPS, in which case the OP should leave it alone. I suspect there's much more going on here than OP knows, and speaking personally, I would be uncomfortable getting involved with this for that reason if I were less than even a casual acquaintance. There is a right way to do this, and I don't think a person who really barely knows Bill is responsible for going about it.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:22 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry you are in this scary and stressful situation. It's admirable to focus on what harm may come to a child in this situation. Sometimes hearing the facts isolated and mirrored back to me by someone else helps me "see" a complex situation better. Maybe this will help you. Based on your post, I would say this to mirror the facts back to you:

Bill is not your friend and he is not someone you trust or want to see.
Bill is someone you knew several years ago and he was mean and abusive to you then.
Bill was blocked out of your life as a result.
Bill stalked you and found out where you worked and contacted you at work.
Bill threatened violence when he spoke with you (it does not matter that the violence he threatened was to himself).
Bill scared you into reestablishing physical contact again when he threatened violence.
Bill tried to have sex with you when you came into physical contact with him again and you had to stop it.
Bill threatened violence to extort money from you and others during the time you were in physical contact with him.
Bill appeared to be having symptoms of psychosis during the time you were in physical contact with him.
Bill has now been blocked from your life again because he is dangerous to you.
Bill has now been reported, by you, to your workplace as someone who should be blocked because he is dangerous to you.

Does seeing it typed out this way help you frame this situation differently? Seeing it typed out this way might lead people who care about you (and total strangers both) to suggest your primary responsibility is to yourself, first, and to others in your life, second, and others not in your life, third:

First. You have a responsibility to yourself to keep yourself away from Bill. This means no contact with Bill or Bill's life, including anyone in it. No contact with Bill or his life. None.

Second. You have a responsibility to others in your life to let them know Bill is dangerous to you (and perhaps them). This means you should let your workplace know that Bill is a dangerous person and should not be allowed to contact you. You did that. Good for you! (Perhaps make sure your workplace knows that not only should not Bill be allowed to contact you again, but that he is potentially dangerous to you. They might have official guidance for you themselves and might also have their own protocols they need to follow to protect you and other employees.)

Third. You have a responsibility to others not in your life. If you think people who are not in your life are potentially in danger, you and/or someone at your workplace should report Bill to the police. You are not aware of any specific threat made to any specific child. Child Protective Services is not an appropriate first call. You are aware of a dangerous person. If you think that person is a danger to others, you should call the police about that person.
posted by desert exile at 8:38 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]

For those saying that we don't know that the guy ever sees his kid unsupervised, OP said, "His ex-wife doesn't trust him fully when their child is with him...He said that despite it being a condition of joint custody he does drink when he has his kid with him...I really feel like his ex wife should know what's going on, especially as she already is concerned about leaving their child with him alone"

No one should be giving advice here closing their eyes to that reality, even if it makes them really uncomfortable to know that they're advocating doing nothing about a kid being in the part-time care of a drinking, suicidal, psychosis-prone parent.
posted by praemunire at 11:26 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]

What praemunire said. I will never forget my kid asking, later, why I had let her stay with her dad when he was an alcoholic. I don't have a good answer to that question, but I take comfort from the fact that her dad was not suicidal, violent, and seemingly psychotic in addition to drinking too much.

OP, I admire you for posting this question, and I understand why you might not want to get involved. MeMail me if you would like someone else to contact the appropriate CPS about this situation.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:18 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]

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