If you’re a parent, one of the worst things that can happen to you is receiving a false accusation of child abuse or neglect against you. Before you think about the legal implications and what this could mean for the future of your family, you probably feel it in your gut first: Someone is accusing you of hurting your child by physical, mental, or emotional means, and/or also by depriving them of their basic needs.
The allegation alone can be a traumatic thing to hear, and it might cause you to feel all sorts of other complicated emotions. Among those emotions, understandably, could be anger or rage toward your accuser or someone you believe is responsible for the report. While you might be tempted to lash out, the best course of action is to restrain yourself and seek legal counsel.
How Do I Fight a False Child Abuse Allegation?
A false report of child abuse to Child Protective Services can still open a Juvenile Dependency case – this can threaten not only your custody of your kids, but even your parental rights. It’s important to get ahead of the situation as much as possible by retaining the legal services of an experienced attorney. You do not want to wait until a dependency case is actually opened and for the court to appoint counsel who may not be the most effective advocate for you.
As soon as you are aware that there is or might be a false report of child abuse against you, here’s what you should do:
- Stop communicating with individuals who you believe to be responsible for the report.
- Never make a statement to CPS, law enforcement, news media, or anyone else without your attorney present.
- Maintain a record of every phone call, text message, email, interview, conversation, or other communication related to the allegation or subject of child abuse.
- Cooperate with authorities, but only to the extent advised by your attorney. Remember that they are looking for evidence to use against you, not help you.
- Reach out to trusted friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors about being a character witness for you.
Why Am I Being Accused of Child Abuse?
If you have done nothing to harm your child, you are probably obsessing over this question. Those who are truly innocent of child abuse may be accused of it for all sorts of reasons, but all claims are either made in good faith or bad faith.
Good Faith Child Abuse Claims
Child abuse claims made in good faith are those where the person who made a report alleging child abuse did so with good intentions. In other words, they may have made a mistake in identifying you or your child, perceiving your behavior as abuse, are suffering from a false memory, or may have even been tricked into believing someone else’s lie – but they made their report in the interest of stopping child abuse they believed was occurring.
People who make good faith child abuse claims could be mandated reporters like teachers, doctors, therapists, law enforcement officers, and other professionals. They could also be well-meaning members of your family or community. While someone else made a terrible mistake at your expense, hiring experienced legal counsel can help you demonstrate that the allegations against you are false.
Bad Faith Child Abuse Claims
A child abuse claim made in bad faith can be a messier ordeal. This is because the person making the accusation often wants to hurt the person they accuse. Those who make these claims can include ex-spouses, former lovers, angry family members, etc. This can be an especially problematic situation if the individual making the accusation is trying to seek custody or some other kind of control over the accused’s children – or simply to damage the accused’s relationship with their children.
Are There Penalties for False Child Abuse Accusations?
If someone makes a false child abuse allegation, they can be held liable by the accused in a civil action for defamation and even criminally charged for making a false report to a government entity.
The individual who made the false report could be held liable for any costs incurred by the accused related to the false accusation, including their legal fees. If the person who made the false report shares custody over the child they said was being abused, they could be held responsible for parental alienation and the custody/visitation arrangement may be modified against their favor.
Do You Need Help Fighting a False Child Abuse Accusation?
We at Claery & Hammond, LLP represent clients who are involved in many different kinds of difficult legal situations. We understand that being falsely accused of child abuse or neglect is probably one of the worst experiences of your life. Rest assured that if the accusations are indeed false, we can provide the legal counsel you need to demonstrate that fact and protect your custody and relationship with your child.