Don’t cry wolf without evidence. Unproven abuse allegations can backfire.
If you suspect that the other parent (or somebody in his or her household) is abusing your child, investigate the matter carefully and discretely. Don’t cry wolf and begin pointing fingers before you’ve double-checked and triple-checked the situation. Of course, you don’t want to ignore any serious allegation of child abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. But before you call the authorities, pause for a moment and consider the quality of your evidence.
A false and unproven claim child abuse can be very damaging to the accused parent, and it backfire on the accuser. When a judge hears that a child has been abused, he may temporarily suspend custody or visitation rights until a children’s agency, family service or human service agency investigates the allegation. Meanwhile, the accused parent may be openly disgraced, humiliated, embarrassed and deprived of lawful parenting time with the child. If the investigation reveals that nothing improper occurred, then the accuser may be questioned about her motives, and about the basis for her report. A judge may question the accuracy of anything the accuser says in the future. In extreme cases, the accused parent may file civil charges against the accuser for “abuse of process” or for “frivolous litigation.”
Sometimes a parent will suspect improper behavior by another parent when the child starts acting out. The child might say sexual things or make sexual gestures that suggest that the child was exposed to improper conduct. While such evidence may be legitimately valid in suggesting that an abusive act occurred, it may also reflect something that the child inadvertently heard between the walls or overheard on television or elsewhere. Parents should not hesitate to report a genuine verifiable act of abuse, even if the evidence is not absolutely conclusive. In most states, parents are immune from any prosecution or civil damages if they accidentally make a false report. Statutory immunity allows parents, doctors, hospitals, teachers and other care givers to make a report of abuse anytime they suspect it without facing any repercussions. But just because the right to make such a report exists, doesn’t mean the right should be abused. Parents involved in custody battles should hesitate to make such a report if the evidence is flimsy or barely more than a rumor.
If you feel that your child has been physically abused, you should also seek prompt medical help. A physician may be able to tell you whether the “injury” you discovered is the result of the child playing with objects or toys, or whether it was induced by some human interaction.
Please tell me if you’ve had any personal experience with abuse situations involving children while a child custody or visitation plan has been in effect.