Help for Parents Wrongly Accused of Child Abuse

How to Respond to False Accusations

Mother and child

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If you have been falsely accused of child abuse, you're not alone. Unfortunately, unfounded accusations of child abuse can be common. Particularly in high-conflict custody battles, tempers can escalate quickly.

One parent may believe that accusing the other parent of child abuse will increase their own chances of winning custody. But it's a flawed strategy.

It’s true that judges err on the side of caution when it comes to children’s safety. However, judges do not favor limiting parental rights unless it's absolutely necessary—and they're well aware that false accusations are made often. As a result, the court will thoroughly investigate any and all claims of abuse.

Learn about investigations into child abuse allegations, what to do if you've been falsely accused, and what child abuse allegations mean when it comes to custody of your child.

Investigation of Child Abuse Allegations

In cases of alleged abuse, the judge will thoroughly investigate each claim before awarding custody or visitation. This often leads to time-consuming and expensive examinations by medical and mental health experts, which can be especially burdensome for children. 

Family Protective Services, at the order of the judge, may also become involved in the investigation. This can become quite intrusive. For example, Child Protective Services staff will question people close to you about your behavior and your parenting. 

If a judge determines that a parent has made a false allegation in an attempt to influence a child custody decision, they may order the accusing parent to pay court costs to the other parent—and even modify the custody arrangement in favor of the accused. In many cases, you can also sue someone for false accusations about child neglect or abuse.

The consequences of making a false report vary—but in many states, false reporting of child abuse is considered a misdemeanor and multiple false accusations can be considered felonies. So even though plenty of parents try it, making false allegations in an attempt to win child custody rarely pays off. 

Is It a Crime to Falsely Accuse Someone?

In many states, it is considered a crime if someone intentionally lies to authorities by saying another person committed child abuse when they did not. In 11 states, penalties include a $500 to $5,000 charge or spending between 90 days and 5 years in prison.

How to Respond to an Accusation of Child Abuse

There are a few actions you may want to pursue right away if you've been falsely accused of child abuse:

  • Comply with the investigation and be as cooperative as possible.
  • Gather relevant evidence to support your case.
  • Let your family and friends know what's going on.
  • Ask loved ones if they are willing to be interviewed or provide a written statement that they have not seen you mistreat your child.

Relevant evidence may include statements by family members, co-workers, friends, or neighbors—anyone who can vouch that you are a loving parent and would never harm your children. While it may turn into a game of "he said, she said," having the support of others will help the judge see that you are not abusive.

Let the people closest to you know what is going on and encourage them to speak openly and honestly about your parenting abilities when interviewed by Child Protective Services or court personnel. Your supporters can also provide written statements to the court regarding your abilities as a parent.

Simply having people who can state that they never saw you mistreat or threaten your children will help your case. If no evidence of abuse is discovered, the investigation will be closed and the court will officially determine that either no abuse took place or it cannot be confirmed.

What to Do When a Child Falsely Accuses You

A child's report of abuse should always be taken seriously. However, especially with custody cases, it's not uncommon that one parent tries to sabotage the other parent's image by influencing their child to make false accusations.

If your child falsely accuses you of child abuse, you would take similar actions as you would if another person made the accusation against you: Cooperate with Child Protective Services and/or law enforcement as they work on your case. You can also collect any character witnesses such as family or friends that can attest you are a good parent.

Each state has its own Child Protective Services hotline for reports of child abuse/neglect; if a child makes a report by calling this number, there are certain criteria that must be met in order for an investigation to begin. The criteria include: the child is under the age of 18, the accused parent has custody of the child, and the actions a parent is accused of committing are defined by law as abuse or neglect.

If Child Protective Services opens an investigation, they will seek physical and/or verbal evidence of abuse. If there is sufficient evidence, your name may be added to the Central Registry, a confidential list of perpetrators of child neglect or abuse. If the allegations don't warrant an investigation, Child Protective Services may do a family assessment in which they visit your home to identify risk factors for future abuse or neglect.

If your child falsely accuses you of abuse, you should comply with any investigations or family assessments that take place and consult with an attorney.

Ultimately, a judge determines whether you retain custody of your child while the investigation is in progress.

What Is Malicious Parent Syndrome?

Malicious parent syndrome is a term used to describe the consistent actions of one parent to influence their child to reject or turn away from their other parent. The parent exhibiting signs of malicious parent syndrome may blame, ridicule, and reject their child's other parent without justifiable cause.

The parent who is on the receiving end of behaviors linked with malicious parent syndrome may experience parental alienation from their child. The child may believe they are rejecting this parent on their own terms, not realizing that the other parent has influenced them to do so.

In some cases, a person with malicious parent syndrome may go to extreme lengths to make the other parent look bad. One such action may be influencing or convincing their child to accuse the other parent of abuse.

If a parent's actions violate family or civil law, they can be charged and brought to court for these offenses. If you are consulting with an attorney, let them know about any parental alienation you are experiencing.

Try keeping a journal to track instances of parental alienation. For instance, if your child's other parent is speaking poorly about you to your child or spreading lies to family/friends, you'll want to keep track of these incidents and share them with your attorney.

Denial of Visitation or Custody

While judges do not want ​to take children away from their parents, they err on the side of caution when it comes to any type of domestic violence and child custody. The proper course of action will depend on the nature of the allegations and a number of other factors.

Typically, a judge may suspend the accused parent’s right to visitation and/or custody pending an investigation. When that investigation fails to uncover evidence of abuse, the accused parent’s rights will be reinstated.

Any time that you're accused of child abuse, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling similar cases. Work with a family law attorney who can help you gather evidence, build a case for appeal, and advocate on your behalf—so that the truth can be fully revealed and your parental rights can be reinstated.

Particularly if an investigation does not clear your name, a family attorney can help you build a more solid case with additional evidence. If one parent is displaying signs of malicious parent syndrome, this is definitely information to share with an attorney.

If a child is being influenced by one parent to accuse the other parent of abuse, an attorney can use this information—and the fact that parental alienation influenced the accusation—to build your case.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Penalties for failure to report and false reporting of child abuse and neglect.

  2. Missouri Department of Social Services. Frequently asked questions: Child abuse/neglect investigations.

  3. Lee‐Maturana S, Matthewson M, Dwan C, Norris K. Characteristics and experiences of targeted parents of parental alienation from their own perspective: A systematic literature review. Aust J Psychol. 2019;71(2):83-91. doi:10.1111/ajpy.12226

Additional Reading

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.