The most contentious child custody disputes are those in which one of the parents alleges the other has abused or neglected the child. Some such allegations are unfortunately true, but others are malicious attempts to poison the court against the accused parent. The court’s job is to get at the truth, and our adversarial system is based on the belief that when two sides oppose each other in court, presenting whatever evidence they have, the truth will come out. In child custody cases, we fight vigorously for our clients whether they are attempting to protect their children from an abuser or protect their good name from a nefarious attack. When you hire Gates Law Group, A Professional Corporation for your child custody dispute, you get 39 years of experience on your side. We are prepared to manage the most contentious custody disputes, including those alleging abuse and neglect.
Generally speaking, abuse is deliberate, willful harm to a child, and neglect is causing harm by failing to fulfill parental responsibilities to care for the child. The California Penal Code §273 makes child abuse a crime, as follows:
“(a) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
“(b) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
These sections explain that child abuse serious enough to cause “great bodily harm or death” is a felony, and abuse likely to produce lesser harm is a misdemeanor.
California Penal Code §270 covers “Abandonment and Neglect of Children,” as follows:
“If a parent of a minor child willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical attendance, or other remedial care for his or her child, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
One parent can be guilty of neglect even if the other parent (or a charitable organization) is supplying the child’s needs.
When one parent makes accusations of abuse or neglect, he or she is accusing the other parent, under oath, of a crime. This is a very serious matter, because it exposes the accused parent to subsequent criminal charges. But it can also misfire seriously against the accuser if the allegations prove to be unfounded and malicious.
In any child custody dispute, the foremost consideration of the court is “the best interests of the child.” When deciding whether to award custody or visitation, the court starts with the presumption that continuing contact with a parent is in the child’s best interest. But this presumption is rebuttable, especially when there is reason to suspect abuse or neglect.
When the court believes allegations might be credible, initial steps include an order limiting contact between the accused parent and the child. This can include:
After a thorough investigation, which includes allowing the accused parent to present a defense and rebuttal witnesses, the court renders a final order for regular visitation, continued supervised visitation, or no visitation. The court can also award joint or full custody to a wrongly accused parent, and sanction the other parent for bringing a malicious, false allegation.
Because so much is at stake in any custody battle where there are allegations of abuse and neglect, you must retain experienced family law counsel capable of vigorously asserting your rights and protecting your child.
Gates Law Group, A Professional Corporation provides determined representation for clients engaged in tough child custody disputes involving allegations of abuse and neglect. Please call 559-432-9944 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Our firm’s main office is in Fresno, but we also assist clients from locations in Paso Robles and Visalia.