The Aftermath of False Abuse Allegations in Family Court Cases

One of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic affected was the reporting of child abuse and neglect.  School and childcare personnel often have the most frequent and the most direct contact with children, so when schools and childcare facilities shut down, there was a natural decrease in reporting.

As a family law practitioner, however, the cases I have seen that involve Child Protective Services are often cases where a parent has reported the other parent. In some cases, this is legitimate, and necessary. Unfortunately, in a subsection of cases, it is used as a tool or a legal strategy to harm the other parent. Parents who engage in this type of psychological warfare often suffer from a personality disorder and are also extremely manipulative.

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Coaching The Child

The first tool such parents often employ is to coach the child to make disclosures to a therapist, doctor, or school official. In this way, the actual report is being made by a neutral mandatory reporter and not the parent directly to the agency. This makes the report seem more credible, and often circumvents screening procedures child welfare agencies already have in place where parents and not another mandatory reporter are making the report.

The complicating factor in such cases is that once an investigation commences, especially if it involves allegations of sexual abuse, it can take a long time to complete and there cannot be any contact between the child and the alleged abuser until the investigation is over. In cases where child medical or forensic examinations have to be completed, overworked case workers also have to contend with the schedules of the other professionals who have to complete their work to bring the investigation to closure. During this time, the accusing parent has more time with the child and the accused parent becomes even more estranged.  In cases where nothing is substantiated, the devastating impact this has on the parent-child relationship often makes a return to the custodial schedule that had been in place untenable.

Parent’s Accusations

Such cases often involve similar patterns of behavior in which accusing parents make reports at strategic points in relation to court dates in a legal case, hoping it will support their narrative about the other parent as an abuser, or result in a continuance of the family court case while the investigation is pending.  Accusing parents often have the child document things in journals, lists, or even e-mails to try to manufacture evidence, which contain information or adult terms that do not align with the child’s vocabulary or developmental age. In some cases, the accusing parent has taken the child to a therapist or mental health provider without the other parent’s knowledge or consent, or has changed the child’s therapist multiple times to find a clinician who will buy into their narrative and fill the role they need that person to play. In a surprising number of cases, with a little digging, it can become evident that the parent has made multiple false reports in the past which have been rejected or has made false allegations against other people.

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The Aftermath

The biggest problem in such cases is that the repercussions for parents who manufacture false allegations of abuse against another parent are often slim to none. Parents who have been the subject of such accusations, even when exonerated, are often too exhausted and beaten down to pursue any potential tort remedies that may be available. In domestic cases, courts are often reluctant to impose drastic schedule changes fearing this will be a punishment to the child more than to the offending parent. The lack of consequences for parents who engage in such behaviors ignores the reality that their behavior in and of itself is a form of child abuse and is likely to continue without some negative consequences for the false reporting.

Comments 2

  1. Jon T says:

    Your description of false child abuse allegation is eerily similar to what I’ve endured as the targeted parent. It seems to be textbook pattern and yet it is surprising that the textbook response by the legal authorities is to sweep the false allegations under the rug and pretend like nothing ever happened.

    Do you have advice for parents who have been false accused and exonerated? Child Protective Services privately told me to keep security cameras inside my home and bring them with me wherever I go in case I am false accused again. That seems to be a bandage over the actual problem, namely a manipulative ex spouse who will stop at nothing to gain custody. My attorney actually advise me to plea guilty to a lesser charge so that the Juvenile Dependency Court can take jurisdiction over Family Court orders and eventually give 50-50 custody. That seems to be a Faustian bargain. Needless to say he’s no longer my attorney.

    • Heather Williams Forshey says:

      Generally, I think it is helpful for parents in these circumstances to keep a timeline as well as court paperwork and supporting documentation, but I don’t know that bringing security cameras everywhere is practical, and having them in your home may invite some other legal issues depending on who else resides there.

      Parents who have been falsely accused and exonerated may have civil tort claims as a potential remedy, and would need to discuss this with a qualified attorney.

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