When, in any divorce proceeding or upon a request for modification of a divorce decree, an allegation of child abuse or child sexual abuse is made, implicating either party, the court, after making an inquiry, may order that an investigation be conducted by the Division of Child and Family Services within the Department of Human Services in accordance with Title 62A, Chapter 4a. A final award of custody or parent-time may not be rendered until a report on that investigation, consistent with Section 62A-4a-412, is received by the court. That investigation shall be conducted by the Division of Child and Family Services within 30 days of the court’s notice and request for an investigation. In reviewing this report, the court shall comply with Section 78A-2-227.
Utah Divorce Code 30-3-5.2: Allegations Of Child Abuse Or Child Sexual Abuse — Investigation.
Help for Parents Wrongly Accused of Child Abuse — Unfortunately, accusations like child abuse happen quite often. Particularly in high-conflict custody battles, tempers can escalate quickly and both parties are bound to feel the strain. In some situations, one parent may be tempted to believe that accusing the other parent of child abuse will increase his or her own chances of winning child custody. But it’s a flawed strategy. It’s true that judges err on the side of caution when it comes to children’s safety. However, judges do not favor limiting parental rights unless it’s absolutely necessary — and they’re well aware that false accusations are made often. As a result, any and all claims of abuse will be thoroughly investigated by the court. Moreover, if a judge determines that a parent has made a false allegation in an attempt to influence a child custody decision, he or she may order the accusing parent to pay court costs to the other parent — and even modify the custody arrangement in favor of the accused. So even though plenty of parents try it, making false allegations in an attempt to win child custody rarely pays off.
Investigating Child Abuse Allegations
In cases of alleged abuse, the judge will thoroughly investigate each claim before awarding custody or visitation. This often leads to time-consuming and expensive examinations by medical and mental health experts, which can be especially burdensome for the children. Family protective services, at the order of the judge, may also become involved in the investigation. This can become quite intrusive, like child protective services questions people close to you about your behavior and your parenting.
What to Do If you’ve Been Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
As uncomfortable as it is, you should comply with the investigation and be as cooperative as possible. In addition, if you have been falsely accused, you should gather relevant evidence to support your case. This may include statements by your family members, co-workers, friends, or neighbors — anyone who can vouch that you are a loving parent and would never harm your children. While it may turn into a game of “he said, she said,” having the support of others will help the judge see that you are not abusive. In particular, let the people closest to you know what is going on and encourage them to speak openly and honestly about your parenting abilities when interviewed by child protective services or court personnel. Know that your supporters can also provide written statements to the court regarding your abilities as a parent. Simply having people who can state that they never saw you mistreat or threaten your children will help your case. If no evidence of abuse is discovered, the investigation will be closed and the court will officially determine that either no abuse took place or it cannot be confirmed.
While judges do not want to take children away from their parents, they err on the side of caution when it comes to any type of domestic abuse and child custody. The proper course of action will depend on the nature of the allegations and a number of other factors. Typically, a judge may suspend the accused parent’s right to visitation and/or custody pending an investigation. When that investigation fails to uncover evidence of abuse, the accused parent’s rights will be reinstated. In addition, if the judge determines that the accusation was unfounded, he or she may order the accusing parent to pay courts costs, including attorney’s fees, to the other parent. However, any time that you’re accused of child abuse, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling similar cases. Particularly if an investigation does not clear your name, you’ll want to work with a family law attorney who can help you gather additional evidence, build a case for appeal, and advocate on your behalf — so that the truth can be fully revealed and your parental rights can be reinstated.
Reasons People Make Wrongful Accusations of Abuse
False allegations of abuse can come from anyone for almost any reason.
• Children may make wrongful accusations because they’re being abused elsewhere, because they’re confused, or because they simply misunderstand the situation.
• Parents may wrongly accuse someone if they’re angry at an organization or individual, if they’re protecting an abuser in their own family, or if they’re trying to hide some of their own transgressions.
• Employees, like those referenced in the introductory story, may make false accusations as a form of retaliation against their employer. Even someone with good intentions could misinterpret an interaction and decide it looked like abuse. These accusations are often the result of people having different opinions about what is or is not appropriate contact.
People who are passionate about working with children don’t typically think about what other people may or may not consider appropriate contact with a child. The best teachers, childcare providers, camp counselors, and sports coaches develop close relationships with the children they work with and don’t think twice about comforting a sad child, handling a temper tantrum, or teaching a child a new skill. This level of caring and dedication can, however, lead to problems. A teacher may feel that they are simply leading a child by the hand, but a concerned parent could see the child being dragged abusively. It goes without saying that physical contact with a child should only occur when that child welcomes the interaction. But it’s equally important that even consensual interactions stand up to even the most unwarranted scrutiny. If the goal is to prevent all false accusations, then no one, not even someone going out of his or her way to spot abuse where it isn’t happening, should have any reason to question a person’s interactions with a child.
Avoid all One-On-One Situations with Children
The easiest way to avoid false abuse allegations is to follow a policy where no adult is left alone with a child. This ensures someone else who witnessed the interaction can testify to its innocence. Many organizations follow the “rule of three,” meaning groups of at least two adults and one child, or two children and one adult are maintained at all times.
Situations Where One-On-One Interactions Are Unavoidable
While a strict policy preventing one-on-one contact is the best way to protect against false claims, it’s not always feasible. People working with children may need to be left in a one-on-one situation for a variety of reasons. For example, childcare providers may be left alone if only one teacher is required by licensing due to low numbers. Or a childcare provider may be alone with a group of very young children that can’t verify a person’s actions. Sports coaches may give private lessons to a child. A day camp counselor may have to wait for the last child’s parents to arrive to pick them up. The possibilities are endless. Whenever possible, these situations should be avoided. When they can’t, however, it may be necessary to take additional steps.
Install Audio and Video Recording
While extreme, one way of proving someone’s innocence is installing a video monitoring system throughout the facility. A video system can act as an impartial witness to all interactions. Video evidence can be extremely helpful in disproving abuse claims. A video monitoring system, however, may not be practical for some facilities and won’t be helpful in areas where cameras aren’t allowed, such as bathrooms. For young children who still need help, doors need to be kept open. Older children can go to the bathroom in groups, so they are never alone with an adult.
Make it Easy for Others to Check In
Classroom doors should be equipped with windows or left open if at all possible. This way, interactions between children and adults can be observed from the outside. If a coach is giving a private lesson, the gym doors should be open. Supervisors should also make a habit of randomly dropping in throughout the day. They can provide another adult witness to all interactions. It’s important to encourage staff members to look out for each other as well. If employees notice situations or behaviors in their fellow staff members that are potentially leaving them vulnerable to false abuse allegations, they should step in or ask a supervisor to help. Over time it’s easy to get complacent about these procedures. A false allegation of child sexual abuse is an accusation that a person committed one or more acts of child sexual abuse when in reality there was no perpetration of abuse by the accused person as alleged. Such accusations can be brought by the alleged victim, or by another person on the alleged victim’s behalf. Studies on the rate of recorded child abuse allegations in the 1990s suggested that the overall rate of false accusations at that time was approximately 10%. Of the allegations determined to be false, only a small portion originated with the child, the studies showed; most false allegations originated with an adult bringing the accusations on behalf of a child, and of those, a large majority occurred in the context of divorce and child-custody battles. Another possible motive is revenge by the person making the allegation against the accused person.
When there is insufficient supporting evidence to determine whether an accusation is true or false, it is described as “unsubstantiated” or “unfounded”. Accusations that are determined to be false based on corroborating evidence can be divided into three categories:
• An allegation that is completely false in that the events that were alleged did not occur; It could be done to get back at a teacher or employer who denied them a grade for coursework, a pay raise or promotion. It could also be done for the purposes of extortion or blackmail.
• An allegation that describes events that did occur, but were perpetrated by an individual who is not accused, and in which the accused person is innocent. When a child makes this type of allegation it is termed “perpetrator substitution”;
• An allegation that is partially true and partially false, in that it mixes descriptions of events that actually happened with other events that did not occur.
A false allegation can occur as the result of intentional lying on the part of the accuser; or unintentionally, due to a confabulation, either arising spontaneously due to mental illness or resulting from deliberate or accidental suggestive questioning, coaching of the child, or faulty interviewing techniques. Researchers Poole and Lindsay suggested in 1997 applying separate labels to the two concepts, proposing the term “false allegations” be used specifically when the accuser is aware they are lying, and “false suspicions” for the wider range of false accusations in which suggestive questioning may have been involved. False accusations can be prompted, aggravated or perpetuated by law enforcement, child protection or prosecution officials who become convinced of the guilt of the accused.
Disconfirming evidence can lead to cognitive dissonance on the part of these individuals, and lead them to deliberately or unconsciously attempt to resolve dissonance by ignoring, discounting or even destroying the evidence. Once any steps are taken to justify the decision that the accused is guilty, it becomes very difficult for the official to accept disconfirming evidence, and this can continue during appeals, retrials or any other effort to revisit a verdict.
Denial of child sexual abuse by the accused, or by others, is common and its reality is not easily accepted (though such a denial should never be interpreted as evidence of guilt). Reporting rates may also be substantially below actual rates of abuse as many victims do not disclose their abuse, which may result in an overrepresentation of false allegations due to the inaccurate estimation of actual cases of abuse. Of the millions of reports of child sexual abuse each year to state protective agencies in the US (including both substantiated and unsubstantiated reports), there is no formal determination as to what portion of those represent false allegations. Findings of multiple studies performed between 1987 and 1995 suggested that the rate of false allegations ranged from a low of 6% to a high of 35% of reported child sexual abuse cases. Experts have argued that the reason for the wide range of differences in the rates resulted from different criteria used in various studies. In particular, a lower rate was found in studies that considered false allegations to be based on intentional lying, whereas the higher rates were reported in studies that also added unintentional false allegations resulting from suggestive questioning. A 1992 meta-analysis suggests that false allegations represent between two and ten percent of all allegations. False reports are more common in custody disputes. Children appear to rarely make up false allegations of their own accord but will make false allegations if coercively questioned by individuals who believe abuse has occurred but refuse to accept children’s statements that they were not abused (as was common practice during the satanic ritual abuse moral panic. False allegations can also arise as a consequence of false memories, sometimes implanted by questionable therapeutic practices.
False retractions of accusations by children who have been abused are suggested to occur for one or more of several reasons: out of shame or embarrassment, fear of being sent to a foster home, due to the reaction of adults leading them to feel their behavior was “wrong” or “bad”, a desire to protect the perpetrator who may be a close family member, fear of destroying the family, coaching by an adult family member insisting the child withdraws the accusation, and more. False retractions are less common when the child receives timely and appropriate support following the statement of the allegation.
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