In this article, we explain what happens if one parent makes false allegations of child abuse against the other parent in an Illinois child custody case. For a broader discussion of how Illinois courts determine parenting time and responsibility, check out our article: Illinois Parenting Laws 2019.
In order to determine how to allocate parenting time and responsibility, Illinois courts weigh several factors in order to determine the best interest of the child on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, if one parent is found to have physically, emotionally or sexually abused the child in question, any other child, the other parent, or any other person, this will significantly impact the court’s decision as to parenting time. Although recent studies have found that the majority of abuse allegations in custody cases tend to be founded in fact, occasionally one of the parents will fabricate false child abuse allegations in order to sway the court’s decision with respect to parenting time.
If allegations of child abuse are found by the court to be false and made without reasonable cause, the court may penalize the parent who made the false allegation in the following ways:
The court may find that a parent who is willing to lie about abuse does not have the best interests of the child at heart. The court may find that in fact, it is not in the best interest of the child to remain with this parent. This may cause the court to award more parenting time and responsibility to the parent who was falsely accused. The court may even change a previous custody order that had already been entered.
In addition, the court will likely cause the parent that made the false allegations to pay sanctions to the other parent. This means that the parent who is sanctioned will be liable for the reasonable expenses incurred by the other parent as a result of the false allegations, including the accused parent’s attorney fees.
Finally, the domestic relations court may refer the case to the Illinois State’s Attorney in order to determine whether to prosecute the parent who made the false allegations for perjury. While civil sanctions require that the sanctioned parent be proven to have lied by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning “more likely than not,” perjury allegations require the higher criminal standard of proof: “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
False allegations of abuse are not only harmful to the accused parent’s reputation, but also to the wellbeing of the child. By creating additional cases ancillary to the custody case for sanctions or perjury, false allegations also can make the custody case significantly more expensive, contentious and time consuming.
However it is important to note that if you suspect actual abuse is occurring, these penalties should not be a deterrent to you reporting it to the court. In order for these penalties to apply, it must not only be shown that the alleged abuse did not occur, but that the accusing parent intentionally and willfully lied regarding the allegation. Allegations founded in a reasonable belief that abuse occurred do not lead to these penalties, even if the court does not ultimately find that abuse occurred.