When relationships breakdown, people can display the worst side of themselves. Sometimes separating partners will even go as far as making false allegations of violence or abuse against their ex. In this sad and terrifying account in the Guardian, an embittered father coached his two young children to make allegations of abuse against his former partner’s new boyfriend. When the police investigated, the allegations were found to be entirely without substance, but it is clear that the emotional consequences of the allegations were severe for everyone involved.
Making malicious accusations can be an attempt to regain control, or simply a calculated act of revenge. Legal professionals will understand that false allegations do happen sometimes, and they will understand how difficult it is to live under the shadow of such accusations.
When clients tell us that their ex-partner is making up untrue allegations (or coaching their children to do so) they often say that they want to clear their name. This is understandable. Even when the police and social services decide they do not need to take further action, parents worry that friends and neighbours will still regard them suspiciously. Another concern is that social workers may say they believe the allegations are untrue, but in reality they still harbour suspicions. Some clients feel that the only way to prevent gossip about themselves is to have their day in court. They imagine emerging from court victorious, with their ex-partner finally exposed to all as a liar and a bad parent.
The reality of the Family Court can be very different. When the court is making a decision about child arrangements, the Judge will not be interested in thrashing through every specific allegation made by one parent against another. This is especially true when the alleged behaviour is not as significant as domestic violence or abuse, but even this more serious conduct is not always investigated in court. In the Court of Appeal judgment of V (A CHILD)  EWCA Civ 274 from earlier this year, Lord Justice McFarlane reminded judges that they should not automatically assume that a thorough investigation was required simply because allegations raised domestic violence or domestic abuse. When the allegations were old or unconnected to the children at the heart of the proceedings, there might be no good reason for the court to establish which allegations were true and which untrue.
It might seem strange in modern times to see a judge saying that such serious allegations do not need to be investigated. However, Lord McFarlane’s words should be understood as a
comment on the function of the Family Court, rather than general guidance about how society should deal with alleged abuse.
The court’s time and resources are limited, and there are restrictions on when the court should hold a fact finding hearing to test whether allegations of abuse and violence are true. In a child arrangements dispute, the court will decide whether to hold such a hearing by looking at the factors in Practice Direction 12J paragraph 17. These factors include:
(g) whether the nature and extent of the allegations, if proved, would be relevant to the issue before the court; and
(h) whether a separate fact-finding hearing would be necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances of the case.
The result of balancing all of these factors is that a fact finding hearing will not be held in every case. This will be very disappointing to parents who feel that the shadow of untrue allegations still hangs over them. It is perfectly natural to want to clear your name, but this is not really what the Family Court is for.
When serious allegations are made emotions naturally run very high, and it is very difficult to know what to do about it on your own. Experienced legal professionals will be able to help you deal with false allegations effectively and pragmatically, so that you can focus on rebuilding your family.