Child custody disputes can be the most emotionally and financially draining element on a family going through a divorce. For a majority of cases, the parents make amicable decisions in regard to custody and parenting time. However, there are some cases that involve contention and some that may even involve allegations of abuse or neglect after a party files for divorce. Unfortunately, some cases involve the filing of unsubstantiated claims of abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS) and requests for personal protection orders in efforts to gain some type of advantage in a child custody dispute.
When a parent reports alleged abuse to CPS, the agency must investigate the case. According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, if the allegations are found to be untrue, the trial court may consider the filing of unsubstantiated reports when determining child custody and parenting time. In the fall of 2014, the Court of Appeals awarded a father sole legal and physical custody of the minor children and provided only two hours of supervised parenting time to the mother per week based on the mother filing multiple reports with CPS that were unsubstantiated. The Court of Appeals held that it was in the best interest of the children to remain with the father, based on the following:
- The mother continually accused the father of abuse without factual support;
- The mother subjected the children to multiple forensic interviews by CPS in
an effort to bolster her baseless allegations of abuse;
- The mother’s behavior rendered her“morally unfit” and lacking the disposition to provide proper care for the children;
- The mother did little to address the older child’s behavioral issues;
- The mother actively discouraged a close and continuing relationship between the
father and the children;
- The mother willfully violated the trial court’s parenting time order and hid
the children; and
- The mother engaged in domestic violence against the father.
Child abuse and neglect are not taken lightly by the courts; however, there are variable
degrees of what is considered abuse and neglect by the courts. One bad decision by a
parent might not be considered to be abuse or neglect by the courts. Multiple unsubstantiated reports give the appearance of game playing to the courts. Parents are obligated to protect their children from abuse and neglect. CPS is crucial in protecting
children in our community and should be utilized if there truly is abuse and neglect.
Consulting with an attorney, or some other law enforcement official, may help weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence available before contacting CPS.
If there are suspicions of abuse or neglect, without strong evidence to support the claims,
there are ways to bring suspected abuse to the court’s attention without the necessity of filing multiple reports with CPS. There are mandated reporters such as therapists, physicians and teachers who may be key in substantiating claims of abuse and neglect. The utilization of those experts may assist in the substantiation of abuse and neglect.