Custody disputes are the scourge of family law. A parent blinded by hate for their spouse/partner can pull out three “trump” cards: false allegations of sexual abuse, parental alienation and parental child abduction.
Each of these scenarios create circumstances that are destructive, devastating and life-changing for all involved. This post will focus on child abuse allegations.
False allegations of abuse usually occur in cases where one parent cannot cope with the thought of their child spending time with his or her other parent. Frequently the motive behind the allegation is simply to prevent a relationship growing between a child and parent. In other cases, the parent making the allegations genuinely, but wrongly, believes that the child exhibits symptoms of abuse.
In a system of law which is properly child-centred, the mere suggestion of inappropriate behavior will immediately shut down any normal interaction between the child and the alleged offending parent. Most often the parent accused of abuse will only see the child infrequently and only in the presence of a “supervisor”, usually a paid child worker or a trusted family friend or relative.
An investigation into the allegations will be conducted by a child psychologist who will interview the parents, the child and others with relevant information. Often these allegations concern young children who have limited communication skills.
Interviewing a child to determine if sexual abuse has occurred is an assignment only for those highly skilled in working with children. We have all heard of travesties of justice where well-meaning adults elicit information from children based on leading questions or parental coaching.
A mother or father accused of abusing their child is in the untenable position of proving that something did not happen. Many alleged abusers offer to undergo polygraph tests to assist in clearing their name.
While lie detector tests are not generally admissible as evidence in court, in 1997 while acting for a father accused of molesting his daughter, I persuaded a Judge to allow the passed test to be accepted as evidence to stand with all of the other evidence which showed the allegations were unfounded. (C. v. C. British Columbia Supreme Court 1997)
To be wrongly accused of sexual interference with a child is a heinous allegation, sadly it is a part of “extreme” family law litigation. False allegations are, in my view, another form of child abuse, where the abuser goes unpunished.