In my last blog post, I discussed the effect that domestic violence can have on a Florida custody case. In short, if a parent has been convicted of domestic violence or child abuse, there is a rebuttable presumption that shared responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Even if there is not a conviction, however, Florida courts take allegations of, and evidence of domestic and child abuse very seriously, If the court believes that one parent has been abusive to the other parent, the child, or someone else in the household, that parent could lose custody or have their time with the child severely limited. You can see why some parents might be tempted to make false accusations of abuse against the other parent in order to improve their own chances of being granted custody. But presenting false information to the court can backfire in a number of ways.
CREDIBILITY MATTERS IN FLORIDA CUSTODY CASES
First and foremost, making a false accusation and having it discovered will affect your credibility with the court in both broad and narrow ways. Of course your falsehood will cast doubt on your accusation of abuse and similar accusations. But in a broader sense, once the court discovers that you have provided false information about one thing (domestic abuse), your testimony on all other matters will immediately become suspect as well—even if you are telling the absolute truth about anything else. You can expect the attorney for the other parent to regularly remind the court that you have said false things once, and therefore might do so again.
Your conveying false information relating to abuse doesn’t just damage your credibility with the court. It also hurts the credibility of legitimate victims, whose word may be doubted by a judge who has heard too many false allegations.
PRESENTING FALSE INFORMATION AFFECTS PERCEPTION OF YOUR MORAL FITNESS
Nobody likes to be lied to. You want and need the judge in your custody case to see you as an honest, principled person who is morally fit to be a parent. (Remember, moral fitness is another one of the Florida “best interests” factors courts use when determining custody.) If you have lied about something as important as whether your child’s other parent is an abuser, might you be teaching the child to lie?
Furthermore, if you are willing to provide the court with false information that could damage your co-parent’s custody chances, it could have a negative impact on some of the other best interests factors. One of these is your willingness to facilitate a positive relationship between your child and the other parent. But if you are willing to tell falsehoods about the other parent being abusive, chances are you are not doing things to foster a good relationship between them and the child you share. So when the court finds out you have shared false information, it may count against you on not just one, but several of the “best interests” factors.
PROTECTING YOUR CHILD AND YOUR CUSTODY INTERESTS
Of course, it is possible to communicate something to the court that turns out to be false, even if you believed it was true at the time. For instance, a child might have a bruise that they got while at the other parent’s home, doing something they shouldn’t (like jumping off a play structure). It is conceivable that a child, especially a young child, might tell a false story about how they got the bruise to avoid getting in trouble (like saying the other parent hit them).
If you have unwittingly passed false information to the court, you must correct any false impressions as soon as you learn the truth. Communicate with your divorce or custody attorney about the best way to do this. Of course, it makes even more sense to discuss any allegations with your attorney before making them, so that you can avoid inadvertently saying something false.
If your child’s other parent has made false allegations of abuse against you to the court, it is even more important to have the support of an experienced Florida custody attorney to combat these false claims. If the false accusations are believed, they could seriously affect your chances of being granted parental responsibility. If they are revealed to be false, your reputation with the court will be restored and doubt will be cast on the accuser’s credibility. If you need to give the court information that your ex is or may be an abuser, or you yourself have been accused of abuse within a Florida custody matter, contact Miami divorce attorney Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.