Do abuse allegations favor the abuser in family court?

When a fractured family breaks, that's when an abused child is most likely to tell.

It's also the time that's most dangerous to mention abuse because if the other parent takes the allegations into family court, the judge may be predisposed toward seeing the protective parent as simply hostile to his or her spouse and unwilling to facilitate a friendly relationship between the children and that spouse.

There seems to be a popular perception that all a parent, particularly a woman, has to do is to allege abuse of the child by the father, and the father's rights will be stripped away without further ado. In practice, it's likely that the mother making the allegations will suddenly find herself restricted to supervised visitation—so that she's prevented from coaching the child into any more "false" allegations against the father. The child then finds himself or herself in the sole custody of the abuser.

It isn't just mothers in that position, however. Fathers can be on equally shaky footing if they bring the allegations to court. Research from California State University says that losing custody of your children after bringing forward abuse allegations skyrocket unless you have ironclad proof. Even then, some attorneys say it all depends on whether the judge will listen to the proof and believe it—or dismisses it out of the biased notion that all abuse claims brought up during divorce are theatrics.

In fact, some feel that the criteria required to win a custody case with abuse allegations in California, at least, is neither gender nor truthfulness. Instead, it may be about finances and who has the most money to secure a better attorney.

While the California Family Code states that the court is supposed to ensure that each party has access to legal representation, there's no consensus about the meaning of the law. Judges routinely skirt around it by giving litigants paperwork to request legal representation that's so complex that many can't complete it without getting legal help in the first place.

Others feel that judges are also part of the problem since many retire to become family court mediators. They want friendly relationships with attorneys so that they will get lucrative referrals later.

No matter what issues are involved in your custody case, seek out the services of an attorney as soon as possible. Representing yourself—and your child—without an attorney could be a tremendous mistake.

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