Allegations of physical and/or emotional abuse are very common in family law. Often these allegations have merit and the victim has suffered for many years in silence.
Sometimes these allegations can however be false and can be used by one spouse against the other to create an advantage. Also spouses’ definitions of what constitutes abuse can differ.
It is very difficult to prove that an allegation of abuse is unfounded. You are faced with having to prove that something did not happen which can be more difficult than proving that something did happen. The accused person often is “guilty until proven innocent.”
The best way to refute a claim of abuse is to present objective facts and observations from third parties. Another way is to question the accuracy of the victim’s recollection which will often have deteriorated or become embellished over time.
In cases of allegations of sexual abuse of children a forensic psychiatric investigator will usually be required to ensure the safety of the children. These investigations however are often not definitive.
In all cases of allegations of abuse it is important to obtain as many specifics and details as possible from the person making the allegations. These details can then be used when comparing the victim’s account to third parties such as their friends, the police or the family doctor. Sometimes the accusations will be consistent but sometimes the details of the accounts will vary considerably.
If children are interviewed or questioned it is very important not to coach or rehearse with the child their story before the interview. As one child psychologist told me, his first question for a child is “tell me what your mother/father told you not to tell me.”
Deborah A. Todd