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False Allegations During Custody Battle | Rights & Consequences

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By Brette Sember, JD Updated Dec 20, 2023

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Custody cases are stressful and emotionally challenging. You may feel as though your parenting abilities are being judged.

How much time you will have with your children is on the line. And much of what's being presented is he said/she said verbal testimony by one parent against the other. Custody cases involve two different points of view that are clashing.

However, a case can become infinitely more challenging and frustrating when the other parent makes false allegations.

False allegations in family court could result in a parent losing custody or visitation rights. The stakes are high, and some parents are not above playing dirty to try to get what they want.

Key Takeaways

  • False allegations are common in child custody cases.
  • These allegations can include child abuse or neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, or parental alienation.
  • Parents make untrue accusations for various reasons, such as payback, fear, or bargaining power.
  • False allegations can harm the accuser, the accused, and the children.
  • If you are falsely accused, work with an experienced attorney and gather evidence and witnesses to support your case.

Understanding False Allegations in Child Custody Cases

False accusations are lies one parent makes up about the other to try to skew the outcome of a custody case. Sometimes, these are entirely made up with no basis in fact. Other times, they are based on a seed of truth and then embellished to become full-blown lies.

Between 2% and 35% of all custody cases involve false accusations.

Each parent has a chance to present their case, prove their position, and disprove what the other side is alleging. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide who to believe and how custody should be awarded.

Types of False Allegations

False allegations in a custody case can be about almost anything that makes the other parent look bad in the eyes of the court. There are some common types of false allegations to be aware of.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse or neglect is one of the most common untrue claims in child custody cases.

The accusing parent may claim the other parent physically, sexually, mentally, or emotionally abused the child. These allegations can range from things as serious as assault to something as small as forgetting to pack the child's favorite stuffed animal.

The accusing parent tries to paint the other parent as unfit by claiming they have harmed or neglected the child.

In some situations, the accusing parent calls child and family services to make a formal complaint, which has to be investigated by the local social services agency. In other situations, the allegation is made in court testimony during the custody case.

The court and the local authorities treat this type of allegation seriously. Because of this, a child abuse allegation can cause severe harm to the innocent parent, potentially affecting their job as well as their access to the children.

Criminal charges could also be filed.

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Domestic Violence

It might seem like a domestic violence claim should not impact a child custody case.

However, most states have laws that require a court to take into consideration any domestic abuse in the home when deciding custody, even if the incidents did not directly impact the child.

Domestic violence has long-term effects on children, including anxiety, aggression, behavioral problems, physical health problems, and mental health issues. Because of this, a court must take any claim of domestic violence seriously in a custody case.

An allegation of domestic violence is challenging because most marriages or relationships that end have disagreements, which can involve shouting, screaming, and insults, all of which can be considered domestic violence.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is another common false allegation made in custody cases.

One parent wrongly believes or intentionally lies that the other abuses alcohol or drugs. The concern in this situation is that a parent under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot adequately parent and keep a child safe.

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Parental Alienation

One parent may claim the other is trying to interfere with the accusing parent's relationship with the child. This can involve speaking negatively about the parent in front of the child, trying to turn the child against the parent, or refusing to allow the child to spend time with the parent.

Parental alienation is essentially psychological abuse, an attempt to control the child's relationship with their other parent. It's not unusual for an accusing parent to claim the accused is trying to damage their relationship with the child, and studies show it happens in 11% to 15% of divorces.

Judges take allegations of parental alienation seriously, and if it is found to be true, it can be used as the basis for a complete reversal in custody (taking custody away from a parent who is interfering and giving physical custody to the parent who was the victim).

Mental Illness

It is not uncommon for one parent to try to label the other as "crazy" during a divorce or custody case.

A false allegation that a parent is mentally ill is a serious one because if a parent does have an untreated mental illness, it can impact their ability to parent and potentially put the child in danger.

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Reasons Behind False Allegations

False allegations are used by parents in custody cases for a variety of reasons:

  • Fear. Some parents are so afraid of losing the case or not getting the outcome they want that they feel justified in making things up.
  • Payback. If the divorce or separation has been acrimonious and a parent did not get other things they want (such as a large property distribution or alimony), they may create false allegations in family court to pay the other parent back for this.
  • Bargaining chip. If asset distribution is in dispute, some parents may decide to create untrue allegations against the other parent, which they then will agree to drop if they get what they want.
  • Delusion. Some parents convince themselves that the other parent is a bad parent, a bad person, crazy, abusive, etc., without any basis in fact.

Consequences of False Allegations

False allegations can have profound implications for everyone involved in the process.

Accuser

If the parent making false allegations lies under oath, they can be charged with perjury.

Perjury is the act of lying or making false statements under oath in a judicial or legal setting. It is a serious offense because it undermines the integrity of the legal system, and is punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the jurisdiction.

Additionally, suppose a parent lies about the allegations. In that case, it will make the court unlikely to believe anything else they have said, so they may end up losing the case entirely because of this.

If a parent makes extreme false allegations (such as making up child abuse), they could lose custody of the child because the court could determine they do not have the child's best interests at heart.

If it is proven that the accuser knowingly made false accusations against the other parent, they could be required to pay the other parent's legal costs.

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Accused

The parent who is the target of false accusations could lose custody or visitation rights with their child. If child abuse is alleged, they could face criminal prosecution, which could result in jail time.

Being falsely accused of abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse can impact other areas of their life, affecting their employment and relationships.

Children

Ultimately, it is the children who are harmed when one parent makes false accusations against the other in a custody case.

The children may believe the allegations and become estranged from a parent. They may be placed in the middle of the conflict and asked to take sides.

Children of high-conflict divorce have difficulty adjusting to the divorce, are more likely to have problems in school, lack self-esteem, are more likely to have unsuccessful relationships as adults, and are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

I've Been Falsely Accused: What Are My Rights?

Being falsely accused in a custody case can be shocking, terrifying, and panic-inducing.

The first thing to keep in mind is that accusations mean nothing unless they are proven. The other parent can say terrible things about you, but unless they can actually prove it to the court, it has no impact on your custody case.

They must prove them by a preponderance of the evidence for it to affect your custody rights. If they're false, it's unlikely there is any evidence at all.

You absolutely need a child custody lawyer to handle your case if you've been falsely accused. You cannot and should not try to handle the case on your own. Find an attorney who focuses their practice on divorce and family law.

How to Fight False Allegations in Child Custody

You should work closely with your attorney to deal with the false accusations. Follow these steps:

  • Get all the details: your attorney can obtain details about the accusations during the discovery process. You need to review them all carefully to understand what is being alleged.
  • Detail everything that is untrue: Make a list of everything false or untrue.
  • Be honest: Be completely honest with your attorney about anything that is true or partially true.
  • Gather proof: To refute the claims, gathering as much evidence as possible that contradicts the accusations is helpful. Calendars, photos, texts, videos, medical records, police reports, and other items can be used to show accusations are false.
  • Make a witness list: Make a list for your attorney of everyone who can refute things the other parent has said and witnesses who can testify as to your general character and parenting ability.
  • Get evaluations: If the other parent accuses you of substance abuse, get drug tested. If you are accused of being an alcoholic, go for an alcohol evaluation. If you are accused of mental illness, get a mental health evaluation.

If you have been accused of child abuse, have your child examined by a doctor and mental health experts. Your attorney can help you decide what is necessary and how to go about it.

  • Keep records: Track absolutely everything in your life that could be in question. Log visitation times, make notes from calls with the other parent, make notes about things your child says, keep notes about what you do when you are with your child, and more.
  • Discuss counter-allegations: If you have valid concerns about the other parent, discuss them with your attorney. You can make counter-allegations that place the other parent in a negative light. However, be sure only to pursue things that are true.

Final Thoughts

False allegations in family court can be challenging to fight against. Working with a skilled family law attorney is crucial. The court system is designed to find the truth, so most likely, the facts will become apparent in your case.

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