Child custody disputes can get incredibly ugly and emotional, and never more so than when one parent has accused the other of child abuse. All too often, these accusations have merit; child abuse remains far too common. However, there are also cases where one parent makes a false accusation against the other in an effort to alienate the child from the other parent. In this post, we will examine some of the many issues behind these extremely difficult cases.
Best interests of the child
Michigan courts make their decisions about child custody based on their determination of the best interests of the child. They make this determination by considering a long list of factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent. Once it has made the determination, a court will decide on how physical custody of the child will be divided between the parents.
Unless there is a good reason not to, the court presumes that a continued relationship with both parents is in the child’s best interests. This means that even if one parent has primary physical custody, the other parent will have at least some visitation time with the child.
Accusations of abuse
An accusation of abuse is perhaps the surest way to convince a court that a continued relationship between the child and the parent is not in the child’s best interests. The accused parent has a chance to defend themselves in court from the accusation, and courts may appoint a psychologist or other professionals to interview the parties involved and evaluate the accusation.
In this process, courts sometimes find that the parent has made a false accusation in an effort to keep the child to themselves, or simply to lash out at the other parent. Psychologists aren’t sure how often this happens, and estimate that false accusations play a role in between 2% and 35% of cases involving children.
This topic is highly controversial. Some researchers say courts are so concerned about false accusations that they often undervalue genuine accusations of abuse, particularly when the accuser is a woman. According to at least one study, courts reject more than 80% of mothers’ accusations of child sexual abuse.
In fact, courts often go farther than this. They not only reject the accusations, they also award custody to the other parent. According to one study, this occurs as often as 28% of the time a mother makes an accusation of abuse against a father in a child custody dispute. Researchers say the percentage is even higher in cases in which the father accuses the mother of attempting parental alienation.
Of course, these statistics by themselves say little about how many of these accusations turn out to be true. They could be indications of judicial bias, or they could be indications that false accusations are common, or they could indicate some combination of factors.
Child custody disputes are difficult enough even without accusations of abuse or parental alienation. When these heart-wrenching issues come up in a dispute, it’s crucial that parents seek out advice from lawyers who have experience.