Child Abuse Investigations
There are two potential considerations when dealing with child abuse or child sexual abuse allegations in family law court. The judge has to determine if the allegations are true or if the allegations are false. It’s pretty much that simple but to get at the answer is difficult and time-consuming. Family law professionals frequently see both allegations, especially in highly conflicted divorce cases. Percentage wise, false allegations of child abuse are just as common as true allegations of child abuse. This poses a difficult situation for the court to evaluate. As a private investigator, we often get calls about both situations.
Both sides of the issue can be extremely difficult and a lot rides on finding the truth of the matter. If the court finds that you committed child abuse (when you really didn’t do it), your contact with your children will be severely limited and the other party could ask the court to terminate your parental rights. If child abuse occurred but was misidentified then your children are at risk. Then the other party could accuse you of fabricating the situation and your possession of the children could be limited.
Falsely Accused of Child Abuse or Child Sexual Abuse
Being falsely accused of child abuse can be one of the most expensive, most time-consuming, and frustrating experiences imaginable and you can end up in jail. False allegations of child abuse or child sexual abuse are often seen in divorce and child custody cases. Always regard a false child abuse allegation as serious. A 3-year-old can make a vague statement to your ex-spouse implying child abuse and before you know it CPS is at your front door wanting you to jump through every hoop they got – but they are THEIR hoops – not the things you need to do to show your innocents and defend against being falsely accused.
Now, even if CPS were to investigate and rule in your favor showing your innocents, the other party still has the option to take it to Court and falsely accuse you again. They will argue that CPS was in error and ramble on asserting that you are a child abusing pedophile monster. The court will consider the CPS “Rule Out” but it is only one piece of evidence that the court takes into consideration. Before you know it the Court wants you to hop though their well-intended but time consuming and expensive hoops to make absolutely sure of your innocents.
Finding the right experts and a total review of the case to find inconsistencies by an independent investigator can help you avoid many of the pitfalls. Child abuse cases are full of landmines and it is easy to accidentally step on one. The worse cases can go on for years in the court system all the while you are forbidden to see your child while spending loads of money to defend against false allegations. Many times, CPS will bail out long before the case has been resolved and declare it simply a child custody issue. A private investigator may be helpful by re-investigating the case and helping you add additional evidence to the Court for consideration.
How False Allegations of Child Abuse Occur
One of the most difficult cases I have had personally was a mother who I was convinced was deliberately putting bruises on her child and then blaming it on the father. This case took over 2 years to go through the family court system and cost the complaining party over $100,000 – She ended up mortgaging her house. Unfortunately, the father who was accused of child abuse died in a traffic accident before the case was resolved. We don’t know for sure but he may have purposely put himself in the position to have the accident – sometimes referred to as a sub-intentional suicide. I’ve also seen other wrongfully accused
cases as well but not to the extent as mentioned above. What is more common is a child who receives a bruise in everyday play such as when they are playing on the playground or at the swimming pool. In a lot of cases, the child may not even realize when or where they received a bruise.
For children especially under 5 years old, it is very easy for a parent to either intentionally or inadvertently question a child about a bruise or a mark they received in a way that it implicates the other parent. Frequently, a child will tell the parent what they think is pleasing for the parent to hear. If this is done enough times, a false memory turns into a reality for the child. Sometimes, an inexperienced therapist will cause this effect if the child is questioned inappropriately or has been questioned about the same incident by multiple persons or agencies like CPS.
You can imagine how difficult a case like this is to sort out, especially in family court with allegations flying everywhere and the child being unable to articulate what happened. Before you know it, you are falsely accused of mistreating your child and it will take months for the issue to go through court. All the while, you are not seeing your child and it is costing a fortune to defend against.
But, Child Abuse Allegations Can Also Be True
On the flip side of the issue, there are some parents who for whatever reason, have molested a child or physically abused a child and are now lying about committing child abuse. Person’s who are in fact guilty will rarely tell the truth and will do everything they can to muddy the waters. For an innocent parent trying to protect their child, this can easily be just as frustrating as being falsely accused of abusing a child. There are some similarities to the above discussion and usually, the innocent parent has to jump through hoops being subject to psychological evaluations and other assessments, much like a parent who has been falsely accused.
Usually, the counter allegation is that the innocent parent is inducing parental alienation or that the innocent parent is mentally ill and the Court will not simply discount the possibility unless there is convincing evidence to prove otherwise. So, much like being falsely accused trying to prove true allegations can go on for months on end in family court and can be very expensive. Again, professional witnesses and a comprehensive review of the evidence along with an independent investigation by a private investigator who knows issues surrounding child abuse can mitigate your time and costs.
An Example of How One Child Sexual Abuse Case Was Resolved
Another difficult case I personally experienced was a father accused of sexually molesting his child. For a person to do this to his own daughter suggests a great deal of pathology along with rationalizations, sometimes referred to as cognitive dissonance, a defense mechanism allowing an individual to distort their belief system in a way to justify their actions. If a person can justify abusing a child, it is nothing for them to lie about it to the point of being indignant. This also bleeds over into other parts of the family.
Although this individual was known to the family as not being exactly stable, the family rejected any notion that he could have sexually abused his child. One of his relatives happened to be an attorney (family law was not this relative’s specialty) and the individual himself graduated from law school but did not either take or pass the bar examine . I was the guardian ad Litem on the case representing the best interest of the child. My position on the matter was that abuse did take place since the child had very detailed information about sex that no child her age could know, nor would a mother coach her daughter to this level of specifics that this child spoke about.
The case went on for about 2 years. During this time, the mother was accused of using parental alienation and coaching the child as to what to say. The court ordered the mother to go through a psychological evaluation herself. Multiple court hearings were held costing the mother a fortune in attorney’s fees. I was frequent, the target of this individual’s anger and at one point he wrote a 50-page lawsuit against me personally and threatened to file it with the Texas Supreme Court for damages amounting to 13 million dollars. He used this as a ploy to allow him to have some supervised visitation with the child and subsequently he did not file the lawsuit.
Fortunately, this individual was ordered to be evaluated by a Registered Sex Offender Treatment Provider (RSOTP). a sex therapist that was known nationally that happened to practice in Austin. Through a lot of testing and a good deal of face to face time with this individual, he cracked by writing a version of what happened. I won’t go into the details other than to point out that the individual thought that what he wrote did not have sexual connotations (a good example of cognitive dissonance at its best). In fact, to any reasonable person, it was full of sexual impropriety with his daughter.
The individual was later arrested and sentenced to probation which he ended up violating and was later sent to TDC. Sometime previous to his arrest, a Motion to Terminate Parental Rights was filed and we had one last family law hearing. The individual fought this motion vigorously during trial. By this time, the mother had incurred over $50,000 in attorney fees and was emotionally drained causing issues between her and her new husband in their recent marriage. Despite some of the problems the mother was having, she held up fairly well during trial.
After 3-4 days at trial, the judge ruled that the father’s rights be terminated. The judge also addressed the money situation and I will never forget how she put it. To summarize, the judge said, “Just because you have a word processor and the ability to write and file motions does not mean that you should.” These actions caused a great expense to the mother” The judge subsequently ordered the father to pay the majority of the mother’s attorney’s fees. But it doesn’t quite end there. Later the father tried to wiggle out of paying the mother’s attorney’s fees by declaring bankruptcy. The mother’s attorney contested the bankruptcy and the bankruptcy judge upheld the previous judge’s ruling and did not discharge the debt.
For those of you who may, unfortunately, go down this dark and winding road of taking your spouse to family law court for sexually abusing your child, I hope that the above example can give you some insight. Not all sexual abuse cases are this difficult but you never really know until you get into it. The very first time I had spoken to the father by phone, he told me it was a simple issue about visitation. Always keep in mind that you are running a marathon not a sprint but eventually it will come to an end. Feel free to call us if we can help!