False accusations may also be referred to as:

  • Groundless accusations;
  • Unfounded accusations;
  • False allegations; and/or
  • False claims.

In terms of family law specifically, a false accusation in an abuse claim can be especially damaging for everyone involved. False accusations or allegations of abuse generally occur when one party is wrongfully trying to obtain custody of a child. One parent may wrongly accuse the other of child abuse in order to gain sole custody of their shared child.

If one party wrongfully accuses the other of abuse, the accusation will most likely weaken the amount of trust in an already strained relationship. Additionally, false accusations of child abuse can lead to more legal issues for the party that is making false accusations and claims. 

The two most common types of false accusations of abuse include:

  • False Accusations of Spousal Abuse: Spousal abuse is generally defined as any abusive conduct which occurs between intimate partners. Some examples of what would constitute an intimate partnership include partners who are married, dating, or residing in the same residence. The term spousal abuse can be used to refer to singular instances of abuse; however, the term generally describes a pattern of repeated or cyclical abuse. Other names for spousal abuse include domestic violence and/or abuse, family violence, or intimate partner violence. In child custody cases, the court will consider whether there is a history of child and/or spousal abuse when determining custody arrangements. As such, a false accusation of spousal abuse could lead to additional legal issues; and
  • False Accusations of Child Abuse: Criminal child abuse includes any kind of mistreatment inflicted upon a child. This definition generally includes physical, emotional, sexual, medical abuse, or neglect. While all states have laws against assault, battery, and homicide which apply to physical attacks against children, many states also have laws specifically defining these crimes when committed against children as child abuse. Such laws vary from state to state, but all prohibit and criminalize any kind of cruelty towards children. This includes physical battery, mental abuse, and neglect

False accusations of child abuse can be especially damaging in terms of the child’s psychological experience. An example of this would be how if one parent falsely accuses the other of child abuse, such exposure to harmful threats can have lasting consequences on the child’s mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, the affected child may be subjected to intensive physical and medical examination in order to determine whether the charges are true. Such examinations are often invasive and could leave the child with long term trauma.

What Are Some Legal Consequences of False Accusations of Abuse?

When discovered, a false abuse claim will generally result in considerably serious legal consequences for the party that is caught lying. The most serious consequence would be that the person found lying would face perjury charges, due to the fact that it is illegal to knowingly make false statements while under oath during court proceedings. 

Perjury is actually considered to be a separate criminal charge. A typical penalty for making false accusations includes criminal fines and/or jail sentences. Perjury may also include making false statements during depositions outside of court, as well as making false written representations in court documents.  

There are some jurisdictions that have expanded the definition of perjury to include false statements that are made in any legal setting, not just those made during trial. Some states classify perjury offenses as a felony, while others classify the crime as a misdemeanor. Additionally, the severity of penalties for perjury can vary. However, common penalties for perjury include imprisonment and fines. Some states have gone so far as to determine that perjury can result in a death penalty case, if that act of perjury led to the execution of an innocent person.

Perjury is considered to be a federal offense if the act occurs over the course of a federal proceeding; or, if a person lies under oath to a person who is acting on behalf of the federal government. Federal perjury charges generally result include up to five years in jail, as well as fines.

Some other common examples of false allegations of abuse may include:

  • Filing a false police report, which is generally punishable by fines, jail time, and/or probation;
  • Making false statements to a police officer or other law enforcement authority; and
  • Obstruction of justice, which can be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the obstructive act as well as the intended effect of the act.

Finally, intentionally causing someone to commit perjury is referred to as “subornation of perjury.” Suborning perjury is the act of attempting to induce a witness to give false testimony while under oath during a proceeding, and the witness proceeds to do so. This applies whether in court, or a different venue altogether.

Suborning perjury is also a criminal offense. An example of this would be how forcing a witness to lie on the stand, or forcing a child to testify in support of a false claim, can result in subornation perjury charges.

What Should I Do If Someone Made a False Accusation of Abuse against Me?

Regardless of the subject of the false accusation, there are some general steps you should take if you are being falsely accused of a crime. These general steps include, but may not be limited to:

  • Take the charges seriously, so that you act accordingly;
  • Determine how much a defense attorney will cost in order to hire someone to represent you in court as needed;
  • Retain an attorney while you are still considered to be a suspect, so that the attorney can take any preventive or proactive actions when available;
  • Refrain from taking any sort of action if your attorney determines that is in your better interest;
  • Collect physical evidence, including documentation that would either support your claim or refute the false accusation;
  • Collect potential witness information; and
  • Cooperate with any investigations being conducted if you are formally charged with a crime.

In terms of being falsely accused of abuse, some suggested actions include:

  • Confide in close friends or relatives early on to reduce the likelihood of losing witnesses later on;
  • Do not breach any restraining orders that are made against you;
  • Continue to be a good and stable parent to your child as the court allows;
  • Refrain from giving too many contradicting accounts of the circumstances; and
  • Stay focused and calm, remembering who is in the wrong, as any sort of outburst may be used against you.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Legal Issues Involving False Accusations of Abuse?

If you are facing legal issues involving false accusations of abuse, you should consult with an experienced local family lawyer immediately. Family law, as well as laws associated with perjury and the like, can vary widely from state to state. An area attorney will be best suited to protecting your rights according to the specifications of the state in which you live. Your attorney can help you gather evidence, determine your legal options, and will also be able to represent you in court.

False accusations of abuse ruin many lives, including the child involved. It is important that these matters are addressed quickly and professionally.