The Men’s Room: The Abuse Charge
Tips to Help Men whose Spouses Accuse them of Child Abuse in Divorce Battle
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” – Congreve
Divorces are ugly, emotional times for most people. They get even uglier when there is a lot of property to fight over, and they are at their ugliest when a parent is using the children to extract money, and/or revenge on the other parent.
Rumors are swirling in the blogosphere about the Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards divorce and the latest allegations in their custody battle. There are allegations of child abuse by Ms. Richards, and until these are investigated and proved, no one is guilty of anything.
But they point to an alarming trend that most family law practitioners are noticing, and that is an upsurge in the allegation of child abuse by one parent against the other. Most frequently it is the mother alleging that the father is either a “bad parent” who lacks parenting skills and is only mildly abusive, to the nuclear option of sexual molestation.
The definition of abuse of children has changed radically over the last the 30 years. It used to be common for a child to be spanked, and for some parents to use a belt or a paddle to correct their children’s behavior. The book “Mommy Dearest,” chronicled the path of abuse that Christina Crawford suffered from the late film star Joan Crawford, and its effects on her life, and it flung wide open the door to the topic of child abuse.
Abuse, like everything, has a spectrum, from the mildly negligent care of a preoccupied parent to the physical and mental abuse of a deranged pedophile. Our social tolerance for any type of abuse has dropped significantly, and the fighting parent who is using the children to get back at their spouse may not stop at making allegations that are false.
This type of false allegation can have serious repercussions. The father who is the subject of a sexual abuse allegation must immediately hire a lawyer who is familiar with the laws of the family court and probably also a criminal lawyer. These types of allegations are taken extremely seriously by various state agencies, and a parent who is an alleged sexual molester needs a strong defense right away. This is no time to be a good guy. You must fight this as if your life depends on it, because frankly it does.
On the other hand, a false allegation can be prosecuted and the lying spouse punished severely by the court. The courts are taking very seriously the false allegation of child abuse and can take the children away from a parent who accuses their ex-spouse falsely. The innocent parent can, and should, be given their full legal and physical custody rights.
Mothers are the more likely parent to make the allegation that a child is being sexually molested. Frequently it is to prevent dad from getting visitation or custody, which increases the child support that he must pay. It is the nuclear option in a custody battle, and just like in the real world, it leads to the mutually assured destruction of the parties.
The emotional damage that is done to the relationship between the parents is nothing compared to the damage that is done to the parent/child relationship by a false allegation. As much as a false allegation increases the bitterness and anger between the parties, the suspicion it creates, and the spotlight of doubt that it casts on every activity causes a lasting harm to both parent/child relationships. The suspicious parent can become overly protective and begin to plant ideas in the child’s mind – which is abusive in itself. The suspected parent can become tentative in offering affection and love out of a fear of misinterpretation and potential criminal penalties.
The financial damage is also extensive. A suspected parent who must hire a criminal lawyer, in addition to their family law attorney, can expect to spend at least an extra $5,000, to defend against a case of alleged sexual abuse, depending on the facts of the allegation, and there is no upper limit.
An allegation is easy to make, precisely because it is taken so seriously by the authorities. The full weight of the state can be brought to bear on a father who is accused, and mothers use this to gain an advantage and make the father give in to her financial and custodial demands. And even though we say that someone is innocent until proven guilty, in this arena, even when proven innocent, there is still a cloud that hangs over a wrongly accused father. It is the fallout from the nuclear option, that never completely goes away.
TIPS TO BUILD A NUCLEAR “MOMSHELTER”
1. Have a video record of your visitations that objectively shows how you and your child interact.
One of the common complaints from fathers is that mom is misinterpreting children’s “potty mouth” play. Fart jokes can befunny, but if a kid tells mom, “Dad and I were playing with our butts” it can send up the wrong red flags. Having playtime on video can show how harmless your actions really were.
2. Doctors are mandated reporters, meaning if they suspect abuse, they must report it.
Be vigilant about what happened and why. When a child is taken to the doctor, be aware of HOW a question is phrased. In one case, a mom was asking about a daughter’s urinary tract infection this way, “Is it possible she was sexually molested?” The way in which the question is phrased makes it almost impossible for a doctor to say “No.” This can be misconstrued by a nervous mother as “proof” of dads molestation.
3. Photos are also important.
They are particularly important if a child comes homes with scrapes and bruises that mom hasn’t seen before. Children hurt themselves all the time, but you should document as much as you can, so that if you need to defend yourself, you can show that the child is prone to getting hurt.
4. Keep a written diary of what you do with the kids and who was there.
Having a long list of witnesses to your parenting abilities can be crucial to cutting off allegations of negligence on your part.
5. If your ex is starting to wage the abuse war, you have to go on the alert.
Be aware of the set up situation –This is where something crucial, like a medication, has been withheld by mom and then mom calls Child Protective Services on the pretext that the child is in mortal danger. This can happen.