By Molly Murphy
False allegations of physical and sexual abuse have become more and more common in the family court in the last few years. Whether a false allegation is made maliciously or made out of a feeling of concern, the result can be the same for the accused.
The court system must investigate all allegations of abuse, whether they turn out to be true or false.
Family courts have to follow the standard of what is in the best interests of the child as to their decisions. Once an allegation has been made, the judge has to take it seriously until evidence proves the allegation to be false.
There are several ways that an accuser can bring abuse and requested relief immediately to the judge’s attention. S/he could file an adult order of protection, a child order of protection, a temporary restraining order, or another motion designed to move the issue in front of the judge immediately.
Allegations of abuse made against a child have to be taken very seriously. For instance, statutes in my state say that in cases where a parent is accused of allegations of abuse or neglect against their child, the Judge must immediately appoint a guardian ad litem.
The guardian ad litem is an attorney who has taken lengthy and specific training and will represent your child’s best interests. Both parties have the opportunity to speak to the guardian ad litem, who also has the authority to review medical, school and counseling records in their investigation.
If a parent goes to the courthouse to file for a child order of protection it is extremely important that they understand and know that the judge can grant for your child at the hearing the full order of protection BEFORE you fill out your petition. So remember to ask for ALL possible relief at the time of filing the petition.
At the full hearing, the judge can do the following in a full order of protection: temporarily stop the respondent from abusing, threatening to abuse, molesting, or disturbing the peace of the child victim; temporarily stop the respondent from entering the family home of the child victim, except as authorized by the court; and temporarily stop the respondent from having any contact with the child victim, except as authorized by the court.
When the court has issued a full order of protection after a hearing, the court may in addition:
- award custody of any minor child of the parties;
- award visitation, which can include supervised visitation;
- award child support where appropriate;
- award maintenance to petitioner when petitioner and respondent are lawfully married;
- order respondent to make rent or mortgage payments, if respondent has a duty to support the child victim or other dependent household members;
- order the respondent to participate in court-approved counseling designed to help child abusers stop violent behavior;
- order respondent to pay costs of treatment for himself or herself and/or the child victim;
- order the respondent to pay for housing and other services provided to the victim by a shelter for victims of domestic violence;
- order a respondent to pay a reasonable amount for the cost to you for filing for the order of protection and for your attorney's fees.
Allegations of abuse made against the other party also have to be taken very seriously. The accused may be ordered not to contact or be around the victim. In most courthouses there are advocates for people who have made allegations of being abused. Those advocates help victims through the process of recovery and will also appear with them in court on their court dates.
But what if these accusations are false? If you were falsely accused, I would recommend you hire an attorney right away. You need to be prepared to put together evidence and character witnesses and be ready to testify on behalf of yourself. Evidence can include text messages, e-mails or videotapes. You can only help yourself if you find witnesses to some of the alleged incidents. You will need your witnesses to either appear that day in court or sign affidavits of what they saw.
Finally, your best defense is yourself. Upon your court date, you must appear in person. When you are in front of the judge, focus on what the judge is saying. Do not interrupt the opposing party, snort or laugh. Try not to fidget. You will get your chance to explain to the judge what has happened. And remember, you will not be judged guilty until you have had a chance to be heard.
If you or your child are the victim of abuse please contact your attorney immediately. It is important for you to get yourself and your child out of an abusive situation. Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located in 16 states.