How can one parent weaponize allegations of abuse and how can it damage a child’s mental health?
Adversarial child custody battles are fertile ground for the lodging of false allegations of abuse. All too often, 1 parent will make a false allegation of abuse against the other parent as a way of gaining leverage in a court proceeding. In fact, it is an intentional and purposeful attempt by the accusing parent to throw the other parent under the bus and thereby gain all power in their custody dispute. As such, false allegations of abuse are a weapon of destruction in a family.
False allegations of abuse become more disruptive and weaponized if they turn into criminal charges. They then become a sinister plan by the accusing parent to totally sever the child’s relationship with the “dangerous” parent by sending that parent to prison. That is the extent to which some parents will go to extricate themselves from an ex-spouse or ex-partner. But they do not understand or care that they are causing great harm to their children by removing 1 of their parents under false pretense.
False allegations of abuse can be difficult to uncover, expose, and prove. There is a natural tendency for attorneys, judges, mediators, mental health professionals, and laypeople to believe a parent’s or a child’s allegations. After all, why would a parent or a child lie? Why would a story of abuse be fabricated? The answer is clear: Because a false allegation of abuse can sabotage the other parent’s position in the legal proceeding. The weaponization of false allegations can be successful. Sometimes, the false allegations win out and the targeted parent suffers the catastrophic repercussions.
The best way to fight a false allegation of abuse is through documentation and the development of a detailed timeline. A timeline can show the sequence of events and behaviors that demonstrate the high likelihood that an allegation of abuse is false. When—and under what circumstance—an allegation is made can expose its falseness. Multiple allegations during a custody proceeding is a huge red flag for fabrication. In essence, the timing and sequence of events can explain the emergence of a false allegation of abuse.
False allegations of abuse often appear in parental alienation cases. They are 1 of the tactics or strategies used by an alienating parent. I have been involved in hundreds of parental alienation cases, and a high percentage of them have included false allegations of abuse as a weaponized maneuver by the alienating parent. Many times, false allegations and parental alienation go hand in hand.
The weaponization of false allegations cannot be condoned and thus empowered. It is one of the biggest mistakes made in child custody cases. If condoned, incorrect and harmful custody decisions can result in court. Custody of a child can be incorrectly awarded to a parent who has fabricated allegations in a conniving and pernicious way. Such a parent is not a healthy custodial figure. This can have disastrous consequences for the child, both in the short-term and long-term.
“Teddy” is a 12-year-old boy whose parents, “Mike” and “Mary,” went through a hotly contested divorce. Mike and Mary had been married for 16 years before their marriage fell apart due to financial pressures and Mike’s extramarital affair. During the divorce proceeding, Mary accused Mike of physically abusing Teddy. Shortly thereafter, Mary was given temporary custody of Teddy because Mike was perceived as abusive.
Initially, Mary’s attorney, the guardian ad litem, the judge, and the mediator believed that Mike was an abusive parent. Mike was ordered to have supervised visits with Teddy in a public setting. He was also ordered to have anger management classes, a psychological evaluation, and random drug screens for 6 months.
A timeline of events showed that Mary’s allegation against Mike was lodged 6 days after Mike filed for primary custody of his son. Over their long marriage, Mike had never shown a hint of being aggressive or assaultive. Mike’s psychological evaluation came back normal. He voluntarily took a polygraph exam, which showed truthfulness with no deception.
As a mental health expert who was retained by Mike, I presented this timeline as part of my court testimony. I was convinced that the allegation of abuse against him was false.
Ultimately, after many months of acrimony and continuances, Mike was awarded joint physical custody of Teddy. The falseness of Mary’s allegation was believed and accepted. She was trying to gain leverage in the custody battle by portraying her estranged husband as dangerous and unworthy of custodial time.
Not all cases of false allegations of abuse end successfully. Many times, the false allegations remain potent because they cannot be dispelled completely. In other words, the allegations remain weaponized.
False allegations of abuse must not be tolerated in custody proceedings. Such allegations would stop if the accusing parent faced swift and firm negative consequences for their destructive ploy, such as loss of custody, loss of parenting time, a large fine, or others.
All allegations of abuse must be taken seriously. But during divorce proceedings involving child custody matters, false allegations of abuse can be a major damaging ploy by one parent. They can twist a case into a knot that cannot be easily untied. Yet, a knowledgeable and experienced mental health expert is in a unique position to uncover and expose the falseness of an allegation of abuse.
If believed or left to gain steam, a false allegation of abuse can defeat a parent and set the stage for psychological damage in the child. Falseness must always be combated. The truth must prevail if the child’s ultimate wellbeing is a top priority.
Dr Blotcky is a clinical and forensic psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also clinical associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr Blotcky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.