What To Do If You Have Been Falsely Accused of Abuse In A Court of Law
Firstly: Litigious Abuse Happens More than You Think
Have you ever had to endure the pain of being mischaracterized in a court of law or know anyone who has? From the wrinkles to the hundreds of frustrating nights awake, crying, screaming into your pillow, at the malarkey of it all, these will be yours alone to bear.
Part of the shrapnel of Litigious abuse is feeling isolated, humiliated, powerless. I had been too embarrassed to share my story for so long. I look at the feelings of shame and choose not to give into them. I may not be perfect, but I know I am not what my ex claims me to be. It is up to me to stand proud and unshakeable in my truth.
If you have been falsely accused of any type of “abuse” in a court of law, it is time to learn how to field emotionally abusive behaviors guised as concerned allegations and take your power back through your own abiding self-approval. This article is a crash course on how to do that.
Only you know the truth about yourself. You must hone it so strongly within, so clearly, so religiously, that no mischaracterization will ever be able to erode your sense of self– or your core truths–ever again. It is this infallible sense of self that will weather you through the worst of the storms. Reactivity or pursuit of vindication will only end up hurting your life – and your kids’. These allegations that seem to practically demand righteous outrage are actually a gift-wrapped Masterclass in self-approval.
Child Custody Cases
About half of marriages end in divorce, and approximately 6 out of 10 divorces involve children. Even the most amicable of divorces can be nightmarish. One way this manifests is in false allegations of abuse in child custody cases.
Typically, (in situations like mine), one parent accuses the other of abuse of their child to gain leverage in their court proceeding. This tactic can be particularly impactful because judges often will award primary physical custody to the parent who made the allegation, even if the accused parent’s actions are not substantiated. Thus, false allegations can be a powerful weapon to limit or deny custody and/or visitation in a vindictive manner. My ex attempted to do this to me multiple times.
If This Happens to You:
- Always remember in every action you do: evidence, evidence, evidence. It is your best friend when truth is on your side. It’s easy to think every emotional detail is important, but you must think like a court does and focus on the evidence only. It is also essential that you remember any written exchange will likely be used against you in a court of law as evidence against you.
- Gather as many unbiased high quality affidavits as possible to show the full spectrum of the truth.
- Hire a knowledgeable and affordable lawyer to represent you.
- If you can’t afford a lawyer to represent you fully, then make sure you hire a lawyer for a few hours, at least to draft or copy edit your responsive declaration. Keep your exhibits to what you can prove, and keep them as brief as possible, as the judge is overwhelmed with cases and can’t read 40 pages.
- If the false accusations are very serious, then you want to request the judge order a clinical evaluation to prove your innocence by digging deeper. This detailed investigation will show the timeline and subtleties that a judge can’t possibly catch in a 20 minute short term hearing. A successful case requires coordinated efforts among the judge, attorneys, and a court-appointed evaluator, who is often a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. This can cost upwards of $8,000+, according to MFT and California appointed child evaluator, Larry Stone.
False allegations of abuse often include unwitting help from the children. Children aged between 3 and 7 years can be easily coached by a parent to testify against the other, which is why I can see how my kid responded to being taped and asked leading questions. Because most children want to please their parents, they are easily swayed, cajoled, convinced, and brainwashed. It is difficult for children to know the truth once a parent has coached them. Older children and teenagers can be manipulated in this way as well, but their coaching is more easily transparent, and adolescents may even admit to it.
A parent will never admit fabricating a false allegation. The clinician must be skilled to see through the defensiveness, deceitfulness, and/or distractions of an offending parent.
Harmful and false beliefs by the accusing parent can also be detected through interviews with the child and the accused parent. Usually, the child or the accused parent will provide critical clues as to the accusing parent’s belief system. Bits and pieces of information will fit together into a detailed narrative that exposes the falseness of the allegation at hand. Remember, the accusing parent generally does not recant nor apologize for their attempts at relationship interference.
It is really up to you to decide if the cost of an evaluation, vs allowing the judge to decide without it, is necessary to the outcome.
I am a 30-something year-old parent of a 4-year-old son in San Francisco, CA. This is my hellish tale of how I was repeatedly accused of some pretty ridiculous things in a court of law (as well as court of public opinion).
Still to this day, I don’t know for sure if my ex’s motivation was pure control, spite, fear, or jealousy. Fear of a custody battle? Jealousy that I moved on so quickly in a new relationship? Fear my boyfriend would replace him as a dad? Or was it all actual paranoia, proof of mental illness that inspired so many meticulous attempts to leverage control and custody through claiming abuse in a court of law (and subtly in the court of public opinion)?
All I know is that the nightmare first started when our son was 5 months old. Our relationship had been rocky over the last year, and there were many times where the relationship was looking like it was not going to last. Although we did have many special moments, there were also instances of us both yelling loudly, slamming doors. Moments when my ex would vanish angrily, gone for unknown periods of time, leaving me alone to manage without any help with our young son. There were memories I have when I found myself running after him down the hallway, begging him to come back. One time, after trying everything I could to reason with my ex, I threw a buddha head to the floor in frustration – but all of these instances are more accurately defined as “domestic disputes” rather than “domestic violence”.
The Scariest Day of my Life
October 2017, two cops showed up in the lobby of our condo where my ex, our 5 month old, and I lived (and our son was sleeping). My ex had premeditated our break-up by filing an emergency “DVRO” or Domestic Violence Restraining Order against me, writing pages upon pages of grossly twisted and sensationalized events that made me out to be a danger to him and our son. The temporary DVRO was approved by the court despite zero evidence and only written claims of listed abuse.
I found out later that the court will often grant these emergency orders (without evidence) to err on the side of caution to protect people actively in danger. Based on the court order, the cops would have had the power to physically remove me from my breastfeeding child, rendering me homeless, and require me to show up in court 15 or so days later to defend myself against these claims.
By sheer luck, when my ex went downstairs to let the cops in, he left the approved DVRO order on the counter. I nervously took the stack of papers and shoved them in between our mattress. When my ex came back upstairs with the police (causing quite an embarrassing stir in front of all our neighbors) the cops asked for the DVRO order.
My was heart racing at the sheer terror of this absolute nightmare, but I took deep breaths, knowing how essential it was that I remain calm without any bit of retaliation in my body. My ex frantically looked for the papers in a rage. The cops couldn’t do anything without them, but they separated us and questioned me. From time to time I looked over at my ex, trying silently to communicate to him: “You don’t want to do this. I forgive you. I won’t retaliate. Please.”
It was a blur at this point, but somehow after about thirty or forty minutes passed, my ex’s rage dissipated, and he sent the cops home. It would take years of therapy for me to get through the PTSD of this event.
It should begin to give you an idea of the kind of person my my ex is to hear that he proposed marriage to me three days later.
Should I have broken up with him immediately after this insane event? Yes. Instead, I said “sure” to his proposal. We got rings. We celebrated Halloween as a picture-perfect family with the photos to prove it. On the way to dinner a few days after the event, we randomly ran into one of the cops in the street that came to our door to take me away.
Life is…complicated. There were instances where I had lost my temper in the relationship – not to the point of deserving a DVRO in any way shape or form, but I was sincerely confused and in denial of how unworkable this relationship was. My ex wasn’t a bad guy, so I thought that I must be worse than I realize. I wanted to be empathetic to the fears that may have inspired his behavior. I wanted to save our relationship and our family. My ex wrote a heartfelt letter to all the friends and family he had previously slandered me to, explaining that he had exaggerated the drama of our home life because he was afraid of what custody proceedings would look like, and even admitted to spitefulness.
My mentor, who was a retired police officer and psychotherapist of thirty years, warned me that this was not likely over. I did not want to believe it. What he had done was unthinkable, but I believed he knew how wrong it was, and would not repeat this act. My mentor knew that the rage-driven disturbance causing him to publicly slander me and use litigious means was likely to repeat; but I naively (and willfully) chose to look the other way.
Our relationship somehow lasted another year and a half. We split up when our child was two years old. We agreed to work with a therapist on a co-parenting plan. Because our child was so young, I started off with 85/15 custody. Within a few months, it went to 75/25. My ex always showed up on time and was very dedicated to his son. I admit, it was really hard for me to go from 24/7 with my kid to being without him for a whole weekend. I did feel that our son was physically safe in general, and that he was a committed dad, but that this was just my cross to bear for having a kid with someone I should have known better.
The Hummus Incident
I was feeding our two year old hummus and organic carrots on his Montessori standing table. My ex was at the door right on time to pick up our son, so I rushed to get him together and wrap up eating. There was a small amount of hummus that got on his sweatshirt.
Twenty minutes later, a friend sent me a screenshot that my ex had posted on Facebook claiming that he picked up his son with “snot” all over his sweatshirt. He had dozens of people backing up his post about what a terrible mom I must be. It was the start of a trend, where my ex would take an innocent instance and twist it into a negative narrative and slander campaign for all who would listen. He ended up taking it down later that day, but the damage was done.
The First Court Case
Four months had gone by, and I decided I would get a cat, become a “cat lady” and focus on my son. But life has other plans, and four months after we separated in October, whilst working on political videos, I ended up meeting a native San Franciscan (like myself) who was a clinical social worker and therapist. Although I was not looking to date anyone at all, let alone so soon after the separation, we fell hard for one another and entered a relationship quickly.
Soon after my ex found out about my new boyfriend, I got my first notice of Custody Court. My ex was seeking full physical and legal custody with literally 44 pages full of accusations. My PTSD came back in full effect. I was a complete wreck. I called dozens upon dozens of lawyers, paid thousands upon thousands of my savings, until I found my lawyer.
What I liked about him is that he seemed to be one of the few lawyers left with integrity in this industry. He told me that California was basically a 50/50 state, meaning that unless there was child abuse, the Court is likely to do 50/50 Custody when the child is of age. My goal was to try to postpone 50/50 custody for when our child was a bit older, but I had succumbed to the reality that this would be my son’s inevitable future. I grew up a child of divorce, where my parents were conflict ridden, so I really wanted our kid to be able to have amicable parental figures. It had always been my dream and intention. Despite him taking me to court for full custody, with 44 pages of accusations of what a neglectful, abusive, poor parent I was, I hoped things would turn around.
Soon after that, my ex suddenly had a new girlfriend. I thought, maybe things are starting to work out for us all. Maybe he’ll calm down a bit if he’s happier. This was not the case.
Humiliation & Doubt
It’s hard to explain what it is like to have to tell a friend, family member, or teacher why my ex is asking them odd, backbiting questions about how I treat our son. There is this indescribable moment where the person will look at me with those questioning eyes. I imagine they are thinking “But did she do it? Is she capable?” I can feel that energy of doubt sear into my psyche, burning humiliation and frustration. To be accused of something, without any way to prove otherwise, is a helpless feeling. Even I would question myself, based on the seemingly genuine, refined and polished nature of my ex. What kind of person would be so spiteful that they lie about child abuse or so delusional that they believe their own lies? Well, I can sadly attest that they do exist.
I had many friends who did not know what to think for a long time – even if nearly all of them eventually came around to see the full picture in due time. My ex was so collected, appearing to be genuine and authentic with his concern. Throughout the years, I found out later, my ex would backbite me to his family, my parents, my close friends, teachers, Medical doctors, CPS…just as my mentor predicted my ex would do, because of his displayed proclivities back in 2017. I have had to withstand dozens upon dozens of people questioning my character for years. The mischaracterization, slander, shame and humiliation ate at me. They still do.
The Accusation Foreplay
When our son was about three years old, a year after separation, he attended a Montessori school during the day. Out of the blue, my ex started questioning the teachers via email about our kid having marks on his face. He asked them if our son was swearing and saying “ what the fuccck”, and some other very odd questions. Something felt really off. I could intuit that my ex was digging, or injustice collecting, much like he did for his falsified DVRO back in 2017. The teachers responded that nothing was out of the ordinary, but still it was extremely unsettling and disruptive to have this line of questioning.
By this time, things were getting more serious with my new boyfriend. My son was getting very attached and it warmed my heart for them to bond so genuinely and effortlessly. Despite attempts to invite my ex to get together with me and my partner so we could discuss etiquette or concerns of our new partnership for our son, as this was new territory, my ex only wanted to speak with my partner alone. This seemed inappropriate. Still to this day, we have not all sat together for this reason.
The First Ex-Parte Hearing
In August 2020, a court process server came to my door and handed me papers. One of my closest friends was over to witness this. I had no idea what the papers meant. Immediately my heart went into a frenzy and the PTSD from the falsified DVRO danger rushed through my body. It appeared that an emergency court hearing had already taken place – which it had. That is when I got my first “ex-parte” hearing. An ex-parte is an emergency custody request based on claims of physical abuse. My ex claimed that our three year old son said that I hit him, and he had evidence with three videos recorded by him (and his girlfriend) that my son said this.
I was terrified and dumbfounded. First of all, I never hit my kid in any way shape or form. This was a terrifying repeat of the unresolved DVRO trauma. I didn’t know if cops were going to show up at my door, or what the court would believe. This sent me into absolute terror. I didn’t leave my bed, work, or do anything but research my rights and speak to lawyers and child psychologists for days.
My ex sent me three videos where he and his girlfriend asked our kid leading questions such as “ Is mommy nice to you?” and “Where did mommy hit you?” Our son, looking very uncomfortable and coached in the videos, hesitantly replied that he was hit on his face.
The first time I was told that I had been a victim of “emotional abuse” I said “ Emotional what? I’m not a victim.” My boyfriend, who had been a Clinical Social Worker for 15 years, and witnessed the pattern, is the one who told me first. He said that on the Duluth Domestic Violence & Control Wheel, he witnessed many of the criteria being used on me.
When another child psychologist, Dr Jay, who said asking a kid leading questions such as “Is mommy nice to you” etc, could be construed as emotional abuse, I started to listen. Kids this age are quite coachable and easily confused, so they are not the most reliable historians. I had heard of physical, sexual, and even neglect – but Emotional Abuse was unknown territory.
What I began to read about Emotional abuse tracked as something I had gone through, but it was invisible, so subjective, and near impossible to prove. These relentless emotional attacks had kept me up nights upon nights, draining my bank account with lawyers and therapists, affecting my ability to work, function, and to be present for my son. Yet, I felt that this was all somehow my fault because I chose to take the risk in having a baby with someone I should have known better.
Why Not Fight Back in Court?
When I asked my lawyer about filing a motion in court myself to stand up for myself, he said that even though he believed me that the allegations were false, he acknowledged that it is near impossible to prove Emotional Abuse in a court of law. He apprised me that high conflict parents notoriously throw around the term “ abuse” left and right in court and the Judge’s look for evidence. My lawyer did not recommend I even mention the term unless I was willing to risk a hugely expensive court case, with $8,000+ invasive custody evaluation that would drain my savings, and still probably end up with 50/50 custody. I chose to let go completely of the idea of fighting back..
My lawyer explained that the Ex-Parte hearing notification I received showed that my ex’s request was denied anyway. I was relieved, but still, the trauma penetrated deeply. How could my ex do something so disturbing as abuse and file to get full legal and physical custody of our son, who was so absolutely loved, safe, and bonded with me? How traumatic would that be for our son, if he were to have been successful at convincing a court he should get full custody? This was his second attempt at full custody through falsifying abuse claims. But the same way he can’t prove I abused our son, it also couldn’t be proven that he was lying about the abuse either.
The French Fry Ex-Parte
The most insidious accusation is the one I like to call the “French Fry Ex-Parte” hearing. During another custody trial in July 2021, where my ex was trying to get full custody again, I got notification of another Ex-Parte hearing. My heart beat in disbelief upon being served the papers yet again, but having gotten one of these before, I now knew how to read the order and saw quickly: it was denied.
A week or so prior, my boyfriend and I were making homemade french fries from scratch. I was sitting on the couch when my boyfriend and son pulled out the hot, fresh french fries from the oven. My son was so excited, that he grabbed a fry and it being hot, dropped it in the grease. The grease splashed a tiny, pea-sized amount and got my son on his cheek. He cried and came over to me. I put an ice pack on it, and within a minute or two, it was all fine, leaving a very small surface mark on the left side of his mouth. I treated it with Neosporin soon after. It scabbed up nicely, never bubbling or providing any major discomfort to our son.
Upon hearing what happened the next day, my ex was infuriated I did not notify him. My ex decided to take our son out of school to the Burn Unit at St Francis Hospital (no, you can’t make this stuff up). The doctor found nothing unusual, but he had to document that my ex had called CPS for neglect. I had to get off work and make sure to let the doctor know of my ex’s litigious nature and to be aware of what he writes in the doctor’s notes, as my ex was up to something. My ex made his usual backbiting claims to the doctor about neglect, CPS report, contacting our son’s teachers, UCSF social worker, etc.
The utter outlandishness of the homemade french fry neglect allegation, helped me to see more clearly that my ex was really reaching, and this was indeed an emotionally abusive pattern. Our poor kid is getting dragged out of school and checked out for a first degree pea sized burn, getting told god knows what! This situation reeked of spite and delusion, leaving bread crumbs of slander for me to either ignore, and risk someone somehow believing his lies or run around like a chicken with my head cut off, cleaning up after the claims. Bok!
The Theoretical Repercussions for False Allegations
A false allegation of abuse by a parent could be met with fines, supervised parenting time, court-ordered counseling, and/or loss of primary custody, as to dissuade future false allegations of abuse. False allegations are to be treated seriously, and not tolerated in the court system. A false allegation is said to represent a psychiatric emergency. However, when the accusing party is either so convincing or even convinced of their own twisted justifications for making accusations, making it hard and confusing to confirm either way, the case becomes one of “ he-said/she-said”, and both parents can get lumped up as high conflict co-conspirators. This is why it is absolutely essential that regardless of the justified triggers, you must conduct yourself with absolute grace and calm. There must not be any texts or emails that show anything but the highest decorum.
Reactive Abuse or Dysregulation?
For the first time ever, when our co-parent therapist asked why I was not wanting to go to 50/50 custody til our son was in first grade, I was honest and used the term “emotional abuse.” I said, I have been put through years of emotional abuse and high conflict Ex Parte hearings, he has taped our son while asking leading questions – and many events which do not feel like safe behaviors to go to 50/50 right now. When she asked my ex why he filed Ex Parte hearings, I was not prepared for what outrageous claims were to come out of his mouth.
My ex said that I was “irresponsible,” that I “smoked weed while pregnant” (ONE time I was so nauseous from pregnancy, that I tried a hit of CBD marijuana to see if it would help), “did ecstasy while breastfeeding,” (this was untrue, but the few times I would drink a bit alcohol or any substance that would affect my milk, I would do what all mothers do, and “pump and dump” my breast milk until it exited my system). My heart was racing by the insane mischaracterization. Then he said the most outrageous thing of all! He said that I “refused to breastfeed when our child was a newborn” (our child was born from an induced labor, so it took a day or so for my milk to come in; we had to supplement my milk with formula).
The frustration from years upon years of this just overtook me. My eyes started watering and near twitching. The prodromal argument bubbled with every twisted narrative he expelled. The world slowed down as my heart beat out of my chest. I cried out loudly and uncontrollably “ You are insane! I won’t stand here and allow this gross mischaracteriz—-” but of course I was now the reactive person interrupting and shouting out to the calm person sitting across from me on zoom. My ex angrily, yet with restraint stated that it was not fair for me to interrupt, and the co-parent therapist stepped in to let him finish his painfully narcissistic rant.
What is Reactive Abuse?
Reactive abuse occurs when a victim reacts to the abuse they are experiencing. According to Google, “The victim may scream, toss out insults, or even lash out physically at the abuser. The abuser then retaliates by telling the victim that they are, in fact, the abuser.” Provoking a reaction is a method of manipulation as it is an easy way to frame a relationship to garner sympathy from others. A narcissistic abuser could record your reaction or provoke your reaction publicly in order to make you seem like the irrational one.
Once again, was this Reactive Abuse or just my own dysregulation? The world may never know…
What Goes Around Comes Around
The ruthless irony is that my ex has been his own worst enemy. Never mind all of the time and money we will never get back from these pointless battles. With California being generally a 50/50 custody state, if my ex would have simply focused on how great of a dad he is to the court without the extreme conflict, he probably would have had 50/50 custody much faster than he got it. He shot himself in the foot by being so conflict-oriented.
However, by a stroke of “luck” one may call it, the judge of 1.5 years we had been assigned, who had kept the custody at 65/35 all this time, got switched to another department in the midst of our case. The new judge, did not witness my ex’s emotionally abusive acts of taping our son, his narcissistic speeches claiming child abuse over and over first hand. The new Judge awarded 50/50 2-2-3 custody immediately. It came as quite a shock, but I had to remind myself that is was only 15% custody difference than before. It is not the amount of time that matters as the quality time. Maybe, just maybe, this would keep us out of court and I can finally be able to really focus on my kid and enjoy the amazing life we have, I thought.
Of course, when I got home from court, I opened up my computer to see a new email by my ex to our Primary Care doctor concerned about our son’s “mental health”…
They can take us to court, but they can’t take away our truth.
As easy as it is to fall into defensiveness or reactivity, you must operate on the tripod of your highest wise mind and ask yourself: “What is the highest outcome for my kid? What is the highest outcome for myself? What is the kindest way to deal with this?”
Vindication can feel like a noble quest – or righting injustice – when underneath it is often the unhealthy pursuit of more outside approval. But the path to justice usually reveals a desolate destination that is unachievable.
Life is a series of precious moments. I learned that it’s important to step away from typing away on our computers, trying to prove our points (whether on Facebook or in a court of law) and be in the moment. Truth is a power no one can take from us. Winning is not approval in a court case or court of public opinion – but being able to look ourselves in the mirror, knowing that we did right by ourselves and the people who need us.
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