The following contains thoughts from paralegal Melissa Ashby, and from attorney William Geary, based upon observations made from a number of highly contested custody cases.
Have you ever been sexually abused, been part of a truly violent household, been part of a family effected by drug abuse, or had a parent imprisoned for a crime? If you have, then you know the impact it has on all members of a family, especially the children. When dealing with a parent who has a drug and alcohol problem, a violent history, or a criminal history, you come to understand the toll it takes on the children involved, and the need for possibly supervised or terminated parenting time.
But what if you are involved in a divorce or a custody case and you are suddenly on the “wrong side” of false allegations concerning sexual abuse, violence, drug abuse, or crime?
All too often in our practice we have seen divorce and custody cases where a parent decides that, in order to level the playing field or substantially lean it their way for full custody, the best course of action is to make false and severe allegations against the other parent. These allegations range from allegations of sexual offenses, to allegations of physical and emotional abuse, allegations of serious criminal offenses, allegations of drug abuse, allegations of domestic violence and allegations of negligence.
The process uncovering of the falsity of allegations such as these or disproving of such allegations, involves lengthy and expensive investigation and litigation, often times requiring or mandating the employment of expensive experts, attempts to get records from police departments, attempts to get records from physicians, attempts to have witnesses come forward and dealings with child protective services and other county agencies. Involvement of all or some of these experts and agencies sometimes creates even bigger issues and often times further variables with which to deal— all in a case where the allegations are false.
Sometimes parents make an allegation and if it is found unsubstantiated they scramble to come up with other allegations, one after the other, thinking that at least one “might stick”– all causing years of harassment and litigation, not to mention potential job loss, criminal charges, and, most importantly, severe mental trauma for the parties’ children. Many times, the parent against whom these allegations are made cannot afford the legal and expert fees or multiple attorneys it takes to prove his or her innocence. While all of this is going on the parent may not even have the ability to even talk to the children. What is alarming to us is the level to which some people will go to ensure that the other parent will have absolutely no relationship with their children.
Children are gifts, not possessions. This is a simple truth which many bitter or selfish parents do not consider during divorce or custody disputes. It stands to reason that when parents’ relationship ends it is due to some kind of difference of opinion, be it a large difference or one which is minuscule. These differences can make parenting together difficult but parents often lose sight of the need for the children to be with their parents – both of the parents—even if the parents do not get along. Parents may subconsciously start viewing children as pieces of property which the other parent cannot have or share.
I believe that parents know that courts generally favor shared parenting and that, without some proven heinous act, the courts will probably grant shared parenting since it makes sense that a child should have the involvement of both parents in his or her life, if possible. Fortunately, where the allegations are serious, our experience is that, when the client can hang in long enough, false allegations are finally proven to be false.
But what about the children?
Even when an allegation is eventually proven false, often times years or months of litigation have occurred. Usually the children have been told one or both versions of “what is going on,” or even sometimes coerced to be involved in the making of false allegations. The emotional abuse to a child involved in this type of litigation based upon false statements often times irreparably changes the course of a child’s life.
Think about a child who has been needlessly examined by children’s hospital rape or molestation examiners, a child who is told to lie and defend one parent over the other, a child who is being stigmatized by visits at school by a guardian ad litem, a child whose love is being purchased, a child who is asked to lie to police, and a child who witnesses a parent being arrested.
Think about an impressionable child who is falsely made to see a parent being portrayed as a monster. to the point where the child believes it, or at least to the point where it is “not okay” to love that parent any longer.
Who would do this to their own child, or to any child? Who wakes up and decides that the parent that was perfectly acceptable yesterday, is a monster today, and that, to gain some advantage or satisfy some selfish desire, it is okay to go on a mission to destroy the other parent, alienating them by saying that parent is suddenly a child molesting, drug addict, who beats their child?
What about the parent who engages in these tactics, and what about the child? Is this not abuse of its own kind—perhaps of the worst kind? What kind of parent finds these tactics reasonable? How many parents are losing custody of their children, losing decision making abilities, losing the right to access records based on fabrications?
Even if the attempted fabrication is revealed, how many parents will gain full or joint custody but have a potentially un-salvageable relationship with a child who is emotionally broken or so damaged that he or she doesn’t want to be with that parent anyway?