False Accusations of Abuse

The rise of false accusations of abuse in child custody proceedings is very disturbing. Courts often choose to "err on the side of caution," and refuse to grant custody to the accused parent. Sometimes, the accused parent cannot even obtain parenting time (child visitation), even after investigation finds no evidence of abuse.

Responses to False Accusations

Historically, parents who complained of false accusations were ignored. However, recent studies illustrate how common false allegations are. In Ontario, an analysis of child abuse allegations in the Ottawa area revealed that 60% of accusations of abuse were related to marital breakup, and in two thirds of those cases there was no evidence of any abuse.

It is no longer professionally reasonable for a psychologist to presume the truth of abuse allegations made in the context of divorce. The irresponsibility of parents who make false accusations to hurt their spouse, or to stop a child custody action, has caused grave harm to children who actually are abused -- the significant numbers of false allegations make it less likely that true allegations will be believed.

While both mothers and fathers have brought false abuse allegations in divorce proceedings, mothers are more likely to be believed.

Consequences of False Allegations

Making a false abuse allegation is a horrible thing to do to a child. The child will often have to undergo unnecessary and intrustive medical and psychological examinations. If the allegations are of sexual abuse, the physical examinations of the child can be extremely embarrassing to the child. Also, depending upon the circumstances and the age of the child, the false accusations can cause a permanent rift between the child and the accused parent, the accusing parent, or both. False abuse accusations should be taken very seriously by courts, and should be viewed as strong evidence that a parent has little concern for the child's mental well-being, and cares even less about the child's relationship with the other parent.

In one noteworthy case, a young child told her father of improper touching by a babysitter, and he reported the allegations to the authorities. When social workers investigated, the mother accused the father of molesting the daughter. This resulted in a long legal battle, where the father had to fight for even limited access to his daughter. During the father's four-year legal battle, the mother was diagnosed as mentally ill, and was temporarily institutionalized. The social workers investigating the case wrote a report, fretting that the father might gain custody as a result of the hospitalization. Eventually, the father managed to convince a court that the charges were false, and he did gain custody of his daughter, but the emotional and financial consequences of the false allegations were enormous.

If you face false accusations of abuse, you are likely to face a costly and difficult legal battle. It is strongly recommended that you obtain the assistance of an attorney who understands the legal and psychological issues involved in false accusation cases, and who has experience defending falsely accused parents.

Copyright © 2004 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was first published on Aug 1, 2004, and was last reviewed or amended on Sep 13, 2014.