Why false accusations are a common theme in child custody cases and how to handle them.
Okay, so I've avoided this subject for a while but I've had hundreds of messages and comments asking for some insight so here goes.
Firstly, I will say that I know this is a contentious subject (which is why I've avoided it until now) so for the purpose of this article I'm going to change the operative word from 'false' to 'unsubstantiated'. I realise this might further fuel contention because unsubstantiated doesn't necessarily mean false but we also have to consider that if something cannot be proven then it cannot be presumed as truthful.
There are so many myriad factors we could get into on the subject too, like the quality of the people involved in such cases, quality of evidence and even quality/credibility of the witnesses/parties involved in the case.
I've acknowledged these so that I can move on with the article's purpose, which is to help those parents who have fallen victim of false claims of abuse. Now I've clarified that I'll go back to the new operative word.
So, how common are unsubstantiated claims of abuse?
The answer in my experience is very common. The statistics are misleading as they only account for instances of allegations that have proven to be false, they do not collect data on unsubstantiated claims that cannot be proven and/or denied.
Over the years I've helped hundreds of people with their child arrangement cases and I can say with conviction that over half of the people I've helped have dealt with some form of unsubstantiated claim (of abuse).
Why are false claims of abuse so common?
From my experience of those I've helped in the UK (other people feel free to comment your perspective), the most common reason is that an accusation or claim of abuse qualifies the "victim" to receive (free) legal aid.
This is a very powerful tactic used in child custody disputes because it gives the parent who's receiving legal aid a seemingly upper hand as they have access to free legal representation. Not only can an opposing legal professional make it more difficult to fight a case, it can also create further problems in delaying the process.
A false claim of domestic violence and/or abuse may also be made by one parent in order to turn a child or children against the other parent. Even if the claim of abuse is later proven false, the damage may have already been done, casting a bad light on the target parent that children may find hard to ignore and this is how parental alienation often starts, particularly in cases with older children.
A big problem in these cases is that the way in which claims of abuse are dealt with are so inconsistent and even backwards a lot of the time. Often the accused is expected to disprove the allegations instead of the allegations having to be proven. Innocent until proven guilty is not a common phrase in family court.
Unless a false of domestic violence/abuse is disproved, the accused parent may lose more financially in any divorce settlement and he/she may also lose partial or total custody of a child or children. So as you can see there's quite the motivation for the accuser.
How to deal with false claims of abuse.
There are certain things you can do to protect your rights and secure your freedom after being falsely accused. A lot of you will have followed the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard case and there's a lot that can be taken from that so if you didn't follow it closely, I suggest you look into how Depp's team handled the case.
For the benefit of this article I won't go into that case but I'll try provide some tips that can help you navigate such a difficult and emotional situation.
Firstly, make sure you manage your emotions and work on maintaining a level head. You mustn't react to any allegation, particularly at this time you will be under intense scrutiny so you have to be in a position of calm. Whatever it is that helps you decompress, make sure you find the time to do this. Take up a hobby, exercise, meet with friends, meditate, start therapy etc.
Seek legal advice. Whether that be through a professional or via PAPA, depending on the complexity of the case I'd definitely recommend getting as much information as possible that can help your defence. This could be to help your argument or even if you have a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) or something that can further complicate the case, you will need to be clear on how to act. PS. Do not breach any restraining order,
Create a timeline. I said I wouldn't talk about the Depp/Heard case but it is a fine example of how important a timeline can be in disproving false allegations. A timeline (or case chronology) is a series of evidence that strengthens your argument because you will be able to refer to events and articles of evidence that prove your defence. You will want to make notes of important dates and incidents and get as much evidence that can substantiate your argument. If you look into the Depp/Heard case you will see how Depp's team were able to disprove her allegations by using a timeline. One day she would claim to be beaten and the next day she's flawless. You won't have the same access unless the accuser is a celebrity but you will be able to find holes in their story as lies are harder to maintain consistently. So focus on consistency and you'll be in a good position.
This brings me to my next suggestion, which is to stick to your defence. Do not change your story or give too many contradicting accounts of the situation. If you have maintained your innocence then continue to do so by standing by your defence.
You must stay focused on the case and the outcome you are pursuing, which is to gain or regain custody of your child(ren) so make sure you frame your case around that. The opposition will try to bait you into an outburst and you mustn't fall for this trap as it will make it harder for the court to believe you are innocent. No matter how ridiculous the claims are you must keep your composure and rise above it.
As always with these cases there are a lot of complexities and I could go on for a long long time but I hope the above gives you a good baseline to go from.
If you're in need of more specified help then I recommend you join the forum on our website here and/or the PAPA facebook group.