Many divorce and family law cases involve allegations of child abuse or neglect. While people can be quick to jump the gun and assume that the person accused is guilty, often, these are baseless allegations levied by a spiteful spouse trying to hurt you and your relationship with your children because they are angry about the divorce process.
Domestic violence and child abuse charges are serious charges and if you are wrongfully accused of child abuse or neglect, your relationship with your children and your future are on the line. You need to act quickly to protect yourself, your children and your reputation from a guilty verdict. Here’s how you can safeguard your rights under New York law and when you should think about getting an experienced Long Island divorce and family law attorney involved.
The Increase of Domestic Violence Accusations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Among the many consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is the effect on domestic violence and child abuse cases across the U.S. The rise in cases also reflects a rise in false allegations, which are more likely to be prosecuted in an effort to protect children staying at home. The United Nations Population Fund recently published that just three months of self-isolation or quarantine will result in a staggering 20% rise in domestic violence reports, particularly in areas of marginalized people. Overall, there are expected to be 15 million new reports of domestic violence as a result of the coronavirus and accompanying lockdowns.
A guilty verdict during a pandemic could be detrimental; if you are forced to leave the family home with nowhere to go, the risk to your health is significant and you won’t be able to quarantine or practice social distancing effectively. With the already heightened financial stress many families are under as a result of the pandemic, a domestic violence or child abuse charge could financially bankrupt the accused and potentially even the whole family.
“A year ago life as I knew it forever changed. My husband of more than 2 decades went to CPS and accused me of heinous acts…. I knew the charges against me were false and could not be proven…. Robert and Christine took on my case when it was just one neglect charge against me. At my first court appearance I found out that I was also being charged with Munchausen’s by Proxy. I assumed Robert and Christine would drop me as a client – they didn’t – they fought even harder for me…. What actually happened was EXACTLY what I was told by Robert and Christine…. Robert and Christine took care of ME. They read my emails and responded quickly – returned my phone calls and they entertained my endless theories …. I was a Mom filled with tremendous fear but Robert and Christine assured me “WE WILL WIN”-“BUT, IT WILL TAKE TIME”. The staff at this firm is amazing…. I was very lucky to find a team willing to go to battle for me….” – Happy Mom
How Family Disputes Can Result in Criminal Child Abuse Charges
Family legal cases are wrought with emotion, especially when children are involved. It’s not uncommon for one parent to attempt to gain control over a divorce or child custody battle by falsely accusing the other parent of domestic abuse. Because abuse tends to happen behind closed doors with few witnesses, little evidence beyond the initial testimony is needed to pursue criminal charges. Naturally, courts on Long Island act swiftly in cases of child neglect or abuse to protect children from harm. However, even when the allegations of abuse or neglect aren’t legitimate, custody and visitation rights may be revoked from the accused parent without real cause.
The Importance of Getting Legal Help if You are Accused of Child Abuse or Neglect
If you were accused of child neglect or abuse of any kind — be it physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional — it’s imperative that you secure legal representation as soon as possible. When the charges are levied against you, the state begins building a case against you right away. Even if the accuser ends up recanting their testimony, the state still has an obligation to pursue the charges unless and until evidence proves that no abuse or neglect occurred, or you were not the perpetrator. This means that you could still end up in court, even after your accuser withdraws their statement. Having an experienced family law attorney on your side can help you bring forward a solid defense.
3 Ways to Protect Yourself — and Your Family — from Child Abuse & Neglect Charges
Launching a multi-pronged defense strategy is critical after you’ve been charged with the neglect or abuse of a minor. Don’t rely on one single defense to prove your innocence or be enough to create reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. Always look for multiple ways to defend yourself and provide multiple forms of evidence that support your case. You should:
#1. Collect Compelling Evidence
Evidence is going to be your most powerful ally, but sometimes obtaining it in cases of false abuse allegations is difficult. If the accusations suggest you were at home with the child alone when the abuse occurred, but you were out with friends at a restaurant, you could bring forward the receipt or a witness from the restaurant that can testify they saw you there at the time of the alleged incident. Any evidence of an alibi may be enough to exonerate you, or at least create reasonable doubt.
You can also do this with character witnesses. If you have an employer, coworkers, friends, business associates, family members, or other individuals who are willing to speak on your behalf, they can provide a witness statement as evidence that the accusations against you are well outside of your normal character.
#2. Expose False Accusations
Perhaps you have no evidence that you didn’t commit the alleged act of abuse, but you have plenty of evidence to suggest that someone else has the motivation and means to levy false allegations against you. For example, say you have text messages from your child’s other parent that demand you give up one of your visitation weekends and that if you don’t, they will report you for child abuse. The quid pro quo is clear and evidence of this nature can be used to illustrate the probability that the accusations against you are false. You can also bring forward other evidence as motivation, such as witnesses that can speak to the character of your ex or instances where they have manipulated and lied.
#3. Create a Record of Everything
Ideally, you’ve been using a co-parenting app or have been keeping your own records of communication between you and your child’s other parent. If you haven’t, it’s important to start now. Log all messages, phone calls, pick up and drop off times, and any other information of importance related to the shared custody of your child. In particular, record your activities with the child any time you have time with them. Keep movie tickets, restaurant and store receipts, and other proof that can both provide necessary alibis and speak to your character.
Additional Things to Know to Protect Yourself from Child Abuse & Neglect Charges
Being accused of harming your child or engaging in domestic violence is a disruptive, frightening experience. Here are some additional things to know about protecting yourself from child abuse allegations:
Do Not Talk to CPS
Child Protective Services (CPS) will make you believe that they’re there to help you, but they’re working to build a case against you. CPS agents are trained to look for each small piece of evidence that when combined can be used to form a solid case to prove your guilt. Following the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva and the $200M lawsuit filed by his mother against Suffolk Child Protective Services for failing to adequately respond to years of abuse reports, CPS agencies across the country are likely to be hypervigilant about prosecuting cases involving violence or abuse against a child.
Cooperate with the Investigation, Up to a Point
That said, it’s also important that you’re not seen as standoffish, aggressive, or uncooperative. This is why working with an experienced lawyer is critical — your attorney can help you appear cooperative and genial to CPS agents and police officers who are working your case without giving away information that they can twist and use against you to prove your guilt. You should never volunteer information to CPS or police during a domestic violence or child abuse investigation, and if asked questions by an agent or officer, politely refer them to your lawyer. It’s possible to safeguard your rights during an investigation without creating a hostile, uncooperative, or otherwise problematic impression.
Understand Your Rights
Police officers and prosecutors may treat you as though you have few or no rights during a domestic violence investigation. Many already believe you’re guilty and will likely engage with you as if you were. However, you have the same rights as any U.S. citizen being investigated for a crime, including the right to remain silent and the right to speak with an attorney.
When Should You Hire a Family Law Attorney to Protect Yourself from Child Abuse & Neglect Charges?
Child abuse and neglect charges can destroy your family, career, and your future. Working with an experienced divorce lawyer or family law attorney is crucial to protecting yourself — and your loved ones — from the consequences of a guilty verdict. Our Long Island family law firm is dedicated to advocating for parents and caregivers who have been wrongfully accused of child abuse or neglect. We’ll work hard to get you back to seeing your kids again as soon as possible. Contact us today for a free consultation at 631-923-1910.
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