About half of marriages end in divorce, and approximately 6 out of 10 divorces involve children. Even when amicable, a divorce is a difficult situation. However, divorces can be tumultuous, and children often pay the price. One way this is manifested is in false allegations of abuse in child custody cases. Typically, one parent accuses the other parent of physical and/or sexual abuse of their child to gain leverage in their court proceeding. This tactic can be particularly impactful because judges tend to award primary physical custody to the parent who made the allegation, even if the accused parent's actions are not substantiated. Thus, false allegations can be a powerful weapon to limit or deny custody and/or visitation in a vindictive manner.
Although a strong visceral reaction to an abuse allegation is expected, it can be counterproductive. Similarly, a rushed response can make the situation worse. In contrast, a wait-and-see attitude leaves the door open for a thorough evaluation before a disposition is decided upon.
To be clear: False allegations of abuse are a form of parental alienation. Alienation involves the concerted effort of one parent to undermine the other parent's relationship with their child. Nothing could be worse than a custody decision that is based on a false allegation. To make matters worse, once a custody decision has been issued, modification of it is burdensome and an uphill challenge.
The clinical evaluation is an important part of proceedings in which allegations have been made. A successful case requires coordinated efforts among the judge, attorneys, and a court-appointed evaluator, who is often a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
Principles of the Evaluation
The approach outlined in this article is based on years of experience with hundreds of cases of abuse allegations, and it consists of sequential steps. The evaluation process is aimed at determining if an allegation of abuse has occurred or not--in other words, whether the allegation has been fabricated by a parent with the intent of sabotaging and harming the other parent.
For obvious reasons, the evaluation must include both parents and the child to understand the entire narrative. All 3 individuals--the accused parent, the accusing parent, and the child--must be a part of the evaluation process. After all,...