Family Law

Accusations of Child Abuse and Neglect in a Custody Battle

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn more about how to identify child abuse or neglect and respond appropriately.

What Is Child Abuse?

A parent or caregiver commits child abuse when that person—through action or failure to act—harms, injures or risks severely injuring a child. This means that a child’s parent can be liable for failing to protect a child from abuse by another person in the home.

State laws vary in their definitions of abuse, but three main types of abuse are recognized in every state: physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse includes physical violence toward a child that may result in bruises, lacerations, or broken bones. Sexual abuse includes all forms of sexual molestation or assault. Emotional abuse is often a gray area, where severe discipline or verbal attacks can morph into abuse. For example, a child who has no bruises or broken bones may still be a victim of abuse. A parent who constantly and consistently berates, shames, threatens, or ignores a child may be guilty of emotional abuse.

What Constitutes Neglect?

Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to act or meet a child’s most basic needs. A parent or a child’s caretaker should provide the child with food, shelter, education, boundaries of safety, and emotional guidance and support. For example, a parent may be guilty of neglect for leaving a 5-year old child alone at home, or for failing to enroll a child in school—or provide an educational alternative like home studies. In some states, a parent who refuses to give a dying child medical care on religious grounds may also be guilty of child neglect. A parent who can barely afford to put food on the table isn’t necessarily neglecting a child just because there’s not a lot of food to go around. However, a parent who can afford to stock the fridge, but goes for days without feeding a child has committed neglect.

What Should I Do If My Child Is Being Abused or Neglected?

If you suspect that your child is being abused, you should report it immediately to your attorney, the police, or child protective services. In many cases, you may be able to get an emergency custody order preventing visitation with the abusive parent. Because abuse charges are taken seriously, it’s important to report any claims of abuse with caution.

Like abuse charges, false accusations of abuse have major legal repercussions. A parent could face criminal charges for making up abuse claims against the other parent to gain a custody advantage. Giving false testimony in a custody proceeding is a crime in every state.

How Should I Respond to False Abuse Claims?

If you’re falsely accused of abuse, you should immediately consult with an experienced family law attorney or criminal defense attorney. It’s important to have strong witnesses on your side and documented evidence of your parenting abilities.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I was falsely accused of child abuse. I am a loving parent, but how can I defend against these claims?
  • I’m worried that my ex’s new partner is abusing my child. What can I do about it?
  • Can I prevent visitation with my child’s other parent if I suspect abuse?
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