One of the most difficult decisions to be made after a divorce is the arrangement of child custody. The ordeal often involves lengthy court proceedings owing to a recurrent back-and-forth between parents who equally care for their children.
In some cases, however, the obsession of one parent may result in them making up lies about their ex-partner to achieve a more favorable custody arrangement. This is any custodial parent’s worst nightmare in Ontario, leading them to naturally wonder, “Can a parent lose custody for false accusations in Ontario”?
In this article, we will discuss the consequences of making false accusations during a divorce in Ontario. We will discuss the definition of a false accusation, its types, as well as strategies that can be employed to defend against them.
- What is a False Accusation?
- Types of False Accusations
- Can a Parent Lose Custody for False Accusations?
- Consequences of False Accusations in Ontario
- Strategies for Defending Against False Accusations
What is a False Accusation?
False accusations made during a custody battle are any allegations made by one party about the other that are untrue.
Sometimes, these may be facts based on truth but deliberately blown out of proportion to paint the other party in a negative light. Other times they are full-blown lies featuring entirely made-up events. In both scenarios, the accusation would be deemed false and hence considered a criminal offense if caught.
Research shows that false accusations are present in between 2% and 35% of all custody cases. These are typically employed as a tactic to taint the reputation of the custodial parent. Such an action, if accepted in court, may result in serious legal consequences affecting the decision-making responsibility granted to them by the court.
Types of False Accusations
Several common types of false accusations may be presented by ex-partners fighting for custody.
The Domestic Violence Protection Act under Ontario Law defines domestic abuse to include more than just physical violence between a man and woman in a relationship. Any form of abuse taking place within a home, directed towards any member of the family may qualify as domestic abuse under the eyes of the law. This means children, siblings, and even parents suffering from abuse from another family member may be regarded as victims of domestic abuse.
The following are some of the forms of abuse recognized as domestic abuse under Ontario Law:
- Physical Violence: This refers to one member of the family physically harming another on purpose. This may include beating, shoving, strangling, restraining, or throwing objects.
- Threatening Behaviour: Making threats to harm a family member as a way to force them to follow demands is another form of domestic abuse. This may be through the use of threatening language or the display of a weapon.
- Psychological Abuse: Hurting a family member emotionally also qualifies as domestic abuse. This includes stalking, harassing, manipulating, and intimidating.
- Financial Exploitation: Using finances as a way to leverage control may fall under domestic abuse. Examples include financial deprivation, stealing money or property, and forcing control of bank accounts.
- Sexual Abuse: Ignoring consent, indecent exposure, sexual assault, and molestation are all grounds for domestic abuse in Ontario.
The Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS-2018) reported 8,082 substantiated cases of child neglect in the year 2018. Making up 21% of all child maltreatment cases, neglect is regarded as one of the most common forms of child abuse and hence an often-made false accusation in custody cases.
Neglect can be defined as failing to provide the basic needs of a child, such as food, clothing, shelter, and a clean home. A neglected child may also suffer from an absence of affection, emotional and physical abandonment, or denial of medical treatment.
Some forms of neglect are considered crimes in Canada. These include the failure to provide the necessities of life, child abandonment, and criminal negligence leading to the harming of a child.
Substance abuse refers to the continued misuse of substances like alcohol, illegal drugs, or over-the-counter medications resulting in a state of psychological dependence. Such an environment can be disruptive for children, resulting in behavioral disorders, mental health difficulties, and delays in schooling.
A parent suffering from such an addiction would be deemed unfit by the court as their addiction to substances may put the child’s safety at risk.
Labeling a parent as mentally unstable or “crazy” is not uncommon during divorce proceedings, though it can have a severe impact on the decision of custody.
A parent suffering from mental health issues and not receiving the treatment necessary can pose a risk to the child’s well-being. The court will take a close look at the severity of their symptoms, medication schedule, frequency of visits with mental health professionals, as well as the age and maturity of the child before determining custody arrangements.
Can a Parent Lose Custody for False Accusations?
The court takes allegations of abuse very seriously. A parent accused of domestic abuse, neglect, substance abuse, or mental illness can lose custody as the court may deem them to be a threat to the safety of their children. In some cases, the accusations made against them may even make them liable to criminal charges.
According to a report published by the Canadian Child Welfare Portal, an estimated 6% of allegations reported to child protection agencies in Canada were intentionally false. These intentionally false allegations involved an estimated 9,370 children.
Consequences of False Accusations in Ontario
The impact of false allegations can be detrimental to the accusing party. Below are some of the consequences of such an action.
False accusations of abuse can cause the accused party to lose many of the rights granted to them by the court at the time of separation.
This includes loss of child custody and visitation rights. In cases where the allegation is more severe such as sexual abuse or physical violence, the accused party may even face criminal charges.
For the accused, if their allegation is investigated and found to be false, they may face charges of perjury. This is a criminal offense punishable by fines, penalty, or even imprisonment.
Loss of Credibility
False allegations which may be overturned in the future still leave damaging consequences on the reputation of the accused party. Research shows that individuals in this situation faced stigmatization, a fractured social network, and social withdrawal as a result of being wrongfully accused. Their credibility in professional settings was also hampered, with many being forced to resign from their workplace and then subsequently facing obstacles in finding a new job.
Psychological Impact on Children
Children who witness the aftermath of a false allegation against one of their parents may also become deeply affected. Research shows that such an ordeal results in children suffering from mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. False allegations can also contribute to a cycle of family dysfunction that impacts children as they grow older–potentially leading to them becoming victims or perpetrators themselves in the future.
Damage to Parent-Child Relationship
The biggest and probably most damaging consequence of false accusations is the impact they have on the relationship between a parent and their child.
False accusations can strain or damage the relationship between a parent and child beyond repair. The child may experience confusion, emotional distress, and a sense of betrayal. These feelings may be further strengthened if the child is forced to take sides, resulting in a permanent estrangement from the parent who has been wrongfully accused.
Strategies for Defending Against False Accusations
If you are a parent who has been wrongfully accused in a divorce case, you may be wondering about how you can fight back. Below are strategies you can employ to defend yourself against false accusations.
- Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all interactions with the other parent as well as proof of your involvement in your child’s life. You can also save text messages, emails, and other communications that may serve as evidence of your good character.
- Gather Supporting Evidence: Collect evidence that can help prove the allegations made against you to be false. Obtain character references from friends, family members, teachers, or other individuals who can attest to your parenting abilities
- Get Evaluations: Go to professionals to get tested for alcoholism, substance abuse, or mental health to counter the claims made against you. Present the reports of these evaluations as evidence of your character.
- Stay Calm and Composed: Avoid engaging in confrontations with your ex-partner, especially in the presence of your child. Demonstrating a commitment to cooperation and communication for the child’s well-being will show well for you in court.
- Consider Mediation: Propose mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method to resolve issues outside of the courtroom. This may provide you with an opportunity to convince the other party to step back into a neutral environment
- Seek Legal Advice: Consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand your rights and legal options.
False accusations are a serious offense, with dire consequences for both the accused parent as well as the children involved. An accused parent can lose custody for false accusations, and in some cases even face criminal charges.
If you’re in Toronto and in search of expert legal advice, contact a reliable family lawyer to help get your questions answered.
▪ False accusations made during a custody battle are any allegations made by one party about the other that are untrue.
▪ Types of false accusations include domestic abuse, neglect, substance abuse, and mental illness.
▪ A parent accused of abuse can lose custody as the court may deem them to be a threat to the safety of their children.
▪ The consequences of false accusations include legal repercussions, loss of credibility, psychological impact on children, and damage to a parent-child relationship.
▪ Some of the strategies you can employ to defend yourself against false allegations include documenting everything, gathering supporting evidence, getting professional evaluations, staying calm, mediation, and legal advice.