Child sexual abuse allegations arising during divorce and custody conflicts are complicated and difficult. Assessing allegations of sexual abuse as part of a child custody evaluation is particularly challenging because of the risk if the evaluator is right or wrong.
Most custody evaluators believe the largest percentage of false allegations occurs during custody evaluations, but there is disagreement over just how many of these allegations are false. In evaluating cases of suspected sexual abuse, the professional must remain open and objective and carefully examine each case. Assessment and evaluation must be done with rigorous adherence to the highest standards of the profession, and professionals must be alert to the characteristics of real versus false allegations. An evaluator must not immediately dismiss an allegation as false because the parents are divorcing and must also guard against presuming guilt and aligning themselves with the reporting parent’s agenda.
Any professional response to the accusations is complicated by the age of the children involved, possible motivations of adults, and the need to protect the rights, interests, and welfare of the child and the accused parent.
Often in a divorce or child custody action, one side or the other raises allegations of criminal child abuse, according to Jennifer Lynn Thompson, a solo practitioner dedicated to defending people accused of serious felonies in conjunction with divorce, child custody, and child abuse matters.
These allegations can become a weapon because one of the few clear and immediate reasons for changing a custody order is an accusation of sexual abuse by one parent.
When making a criminal accusation against an opposing party in a family law case, often the accuser forgets his or her own role in the alleged crimes. For example, if one spouse alleges that the other engaged in selling illegal drugs, his or her own actions may suggest direct participation and thus equal culpability. Even if not criminally responsible as a full participant, that person may be guilty under the law of facilitation or accessory of the crime.
A parent who reports criminal behavior to authorities may be subject to criminal prosecutions for child endangerment, reckless endangerment, or failure to protect.