Is It True That Mothers Are More Likely to Lose Custody If They Claim That the Father Has Sexually Abused the Child?
There is no question that custody cases involving child abuse are amongst the most difficult cases that we handle as family law practitioners here in Florida. Not only do they involve families going through a lot of pain and concern over their children, but there has also been a significant amount of concern from mothers in particular over whether they could lose custody if they claim that their child has been sexually abused by the father due to one study that was highlighted in the Washington Post last year, which was fraught with errors.
In reality, the deliberating process in custody cases is highly subjective. However, the best interest of the child is always the primary consideration of the courts. Below, we discuss investigations into these types of claims, various problems associated with definitive studies that have made conclusions one way or another as to custody when they are made, and how Florida law is applied to both false accusations in court and any evidence of child abuse.
Investigations & Evidence of Abuse
When a claim of child sex abuse is made, an investigation into these claims is launched; sometimes involving the child protective agency. If, at the end of the investigation, there is insufficient evidence, the official conclusion is sometimes referred to as “unfounded.” This isn’t a guarantee of innocence, but rather simply an indication that there was insufficient evidence to support the particular complaint made.
If there is no physical evidence, the courts will typically consider the relationships between the parties, whether there was any potential coaching involved by one parent, and, most importantly, what assessments the experts associated with the case provide to the court after interviewing the child. However, the court automatically considers evidence of child abuse as evidence of detriment to the child, regardless of whether or not there is a specific conviction of any offense of child abuse involved.
Debunking The Meier Study: False Accusations Versus a Good Faith Belief That Sexual Abuse Has Occurred
The Meier study concluded that when mothers allege child abuse by fathers, they often lose custody; presumably because the courts do not believe them. However, there were a number of problems identified both with the study and with the conclusions of its authors. For one, the authors only looked at reported (or published) family law cases at the appellate level in assembling their data and conclusions, while most family law cases are unreported, indicating that the results were heavily skewed. In reality, if a child’s mother presents a good faith belief that their child is being sexually abused by the father, even if the allegations turn out to be unfounded, the court will not necessarily award custody to the father. A best interest of the child analysis in a situation like this will show that the mother is acting appropriately to protect her child based on her reasonable beliefs at the time of the allegations.
It is true, however, that, under Florida law, any evidence that a parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding sexual violence and/or child abuse is taken into account in evaluating what is in the best interests of the child. In addition, if the accusing parent continues to pursue allegations, it is possible for the accused parent to make the argument to the court that the accusing parent is damaging the relationship that they have with their child, essentially amounting to a claim of parental alienation, which can ultimately affect the accusing parent’s custody.
If You Live in Florida and Have Concerns About Child Abuse as an Issue in Your Custody Case, Contact The Arwani Law Firm
Regardless of the circumstances, this topic can be an incredibly difficult and painful one to deal with. Any clients dealing with this issue in their custody case must be very specifically prepared by their attorney so that they know what to expect in court.
Orlando family lawyer Rania Arwani of the Arwani Law Firm trained with the Florida enter for Child Welfare specifically in order to handle a variety of family law matter, including sexual abuse of children. She is driven by a desire to help in the fight against domestic violence and in representing abuse women and children. If you have concerns about child abuse in a Florida custody case, contact the Arwani Law Firm for a free phone consultation to find out how we can help.