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False Allegations Made in a Divorce in Massachusetts
Deciding child custody arrangements before a divorce can be frustrating when the two parents disagree about how they should be made. If the parents cannot come to a mutually acceptable decision about child custody themselves, or with the help of a counselor and/or attorney, then the Probate and Family Court can make the decision for them based on what is determined to be in the best interests of the children.
In some divorce cases, a history of domestic abuse, including child abuse, by one of the parents may prompt the court to come to a decision which favors one parent over the other. When there is no reason to suggest that one or other of the parents is unsuitable, child custody arrangements will normally acknowledge that both parents have a right to an equal share in looking after their joint children, even if one parent is allocated the main job of physical custody more than the other. The court will make their decisions taking into consideration physical custody, visitation and vacation rights, child and spousal support.
Unfortunately, some couples’ relationships may have deteriorated to the point where one or the other makes false allegations about the other, with the intention of securing better access rights to the children after the divorce has been finalized. Typically, statements may be made alleging that the other parent:
- has been physically or emotionally violent towards the children and/or the spouse;
- has sexually abused one or more of the children;
- is engaged in criminal activity;
- has been negligent towards the children;
- has a drug or alcohol dependence problem.
Any allegations which can be substantiated and are based on true experience and observations are important as they can help the court determine what is in the best interests of the children. False allegations, however, can only end up hurting both parents, especially the parent who is the target of the allegations, as well as the children themselves.
How false allegations can cause long term harm
False allegations about one of the parents are typically made to influence the deliberations of the court and favor the interests of the parent making the allegations, without due forethought as to their consequences. Once serious allegations have been made, however, they will need to be investigated. It would be unlikely for the court to take any allegations about the unsuitability of one of the parents at face value.
Evidence supporting the allegations must be assessed, interviews held, including interviews conducted with the children and criminal and police records checked. All this takes time, and there will be a considerable financial cost. The allegations may lead to the reputation of the parent whose behavior or actions under scrutiny being damaged or even losing their job. It could at the very least cause them emotional and psychological harm.
The children’s own emotional and psychological health may also suffer as accusations and counter accusations are made about one of their parents. The children may be persuaded to lie or at least take the side of one parent against the other, when they had actually developed long lasting beneficial relationships with both parents up to that point. Lastly, if it is proven that the parent making the allegations is indeed making allegations which are false, then this may compromise the prospects that parent may have had for custody rights and even lead to criminal charges laid against them.
Giving false information to the police deliberately is a crime
Making allegations about a parent by the other parent is a serious business, especially if the allegations are made to the police in a deliberate attempt to undermine the other parent’s rights to shared custody arrangements and are knowingly false. While accidentally making a false statement is not in itself a crime, deliberate misinformation may be considered a misdemeanor in Massachusetts, with penalties including a jail sentence of up to a year.
Such a crime, if it leads to a conviction, could lead to the opposite result than the one intended for the person making the allegations, as the court would most likely favor giving superior custody rights to the parent who was the victim of the false allegations. In addition, the long term relationship between the children and the parent making the allegations may be damaged.
Even if a crime cannot be proven to have been committed, the actual fact that allegations have been falsely made may lead to a civil court case against the parent making the allegations, all of which is going to be detrimental to both parents and the children in the long run.
What can the parent who is at the receiving end of false allegations do about it?
The first step should be to engage an experienced family law attorney who has had experience in dealing with false allegations made in divorce cases. Any attempt to argue with the other parent directly should be resisted, as this could be used as evidence against you. This is even more important if the allegations had led to a restraining order made against you.
Evidence which can be used to directly counter or disprove any false allegations of violence or abuse should be obtained. This includes medical records, records of any contact with teachers and school authorities, statements from reliable witnesses, photographs, video recordings and any form of former communication between you and your spouse which can show that the allegations are false are important. It is important to focus on the exact allegations that have been made, even if they are rather vague. Dates and times for any supporting evidence are important as they can be used to show continuity in a positive parenting behavior and attitude that has been in existence.
Whatever the allegations, don’t underestimate the potential harm they can do to you and the ongoing relationship you have with your children. You are strongly advised not to try and defend yourself without experienced legal help.