Q: Help! I'm being wrongly accused of child abuse. My ex has repeatedly made false allegations against me, claiming that I've been hurting my children physically. I know I'm innocent, but I'm worried that the accusations he's making could hurt my chances of winning child custody. What can I do to make the courts see that he's making it up?
A: Unfortunately, accusations like this happen quite often.
Particularly in high-conflict custody battles, tempers can escalate quickly and both parties are bound to feel the strain. In some situations, one parent may be tempted to believe that accusing the other parent of child abuse will increase his or her own chances of winning child custody. But it's a flawed strategy.
It’s true that judges err on the side of caution when it comes to children’s safety. However, judges do not favor limiting parental rights unless it's absolutely necessary -- and they're well aware that false accusations are made often. As a result, any and all claims of abuse will be thoroughly investigated by the court. Moreover, if a judge determines that a parent has made a false allegation in an attempt to influence a child custody decision, he or she may order the accusing parent to pay court costs to the other parent -- and even modify the custody arrangement in favor of the accused.
So even though plenty of parents try it, making false allegations in an attempt to win child custody rarely pays off.
Investigating Child Abuse Allegations
In cases of alleged abuse, the judge will thoroughly investigate each claim before awarding custody or visitation. This often leads to time-consuming and expensive examinations by medical and mental health experts, which can be especially burdensome for the children.
Family protective services, at the order of the judge, may also become involved in the investigation. This can become quite intrusive, as child protective services questions people close to you about your behavior and your parenting.
What to Do If You've Been Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
As uncomfortable as it is, you should comply with the investigation and be as cooperative as possible. In addition, if you have been falsely accused, you should gather relevant evidence to support your case. This may include statements by your family members, co-workers, friends, or neighbors -- anyone who can vouch that you are a loving parent and would never harm your children. While it may turn into a game of "he said, she said," having the support of others will help the judge see that you are not abusive.
In particular, let the people closest to you know what is going on and encourage them to speak openly and honestly about your parenting abilities when interviewed by child protective services or court personnel. Know that your supporters can also provide written statements to the court regarding your abilities as a parent. Simply having people who can state that they never saw you mistreat or threaten your children will help your case.
If no evidence of abuse is discovered, the investigation will be closed and the court will officially determine that either no abuse took place or it cannot be confirmed.
What to Do if the Courts Deny Visitation or Custody After Investigating Allegations of Child Abuse
While judges do not want to take children away from their parents, they err on the side of caution when it comes to any type of domestic abuse and child custody. The proper course of action will depend on the nature of the allegations and a number of other factors. Typically, a judge may suspend the accused parent’s right to visitation and/or custody pending an investigation. When that investigation fails to uncover evidence of abuse, the accused parent’s rights will be reinstated. In addition, if the judge determines that the accusation was unfounded, he or she may order the accusing parent to pay courts costs, including attorney’s fees, to the other parent.
However, any time that you're accused of child abuse, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling similar cases. Particularly if an investigation does not clear your name, you'll want to work with a family law attorney who can help you gather additional evidence, build a case for appeal, and advocate on your behalf -- so that the truth can be fully revealed and your parental rights can be reinstated.