In Massachusetts, child custody cases can be contentious with both parents wanting to have as much time with the child as possible. In some cases, this is difficult but not overtly acrimonious as the sides do have the child’s well-being in mind. In others, it can reach a point where parents will say and do anything to try and get custody of the child. They might even go so far as to lodge accusations of abuse against the other parent even if it is not true.
There is no doubt that incidents of domestic violence and abuse happen all-too frequently. People are arrested for it and face the potential penalties for a conviction. The victim may seek and receive a restraining order to prevent the alleged abuser from coming to the home, having time with a child, possessing firearms and more. As part of a custody case, if a person is said to have committed any form of abuse, it will undoubtedly impact the determination as to which parent will have custody and the amount of visitation – if any – there will be. Parents who are confronted with false accusations will likely be shocked, angry and fearful. Before reacting without thinking, it is important to understand the legal ramifications and be prepared by building a comprehensive defense.
Penalties for assaulting a family member
In Massachusetts, a person who is convicted of assault or battery on a family member or a member of the household will face a variety of problematic penalties. For a first offense, there can be up to 2.5 years of incarceration, a $5,000 fine or both. When there is a second or subsequent offense, the jail term can be up to five years. Even people who are unmarried and simply live together will be subject to this law. When they have children together, it will impact any custody determination. Making a false report of a crime to law enforcement has penalties of its own with the person potentially being fined between $100 and $500 and/or being jailed for up to one year.
How is abuse factored in with a custody and visitation order?
When deciding on child custody and visitation, the court will take allegations of abuse into consideration. If the child suffered bodily injury or was in fear of bodily injury, it is categorized as abuse. If there was an attempt to cause serious bodily injury, fear of serious bodily injury or sexual relations through force, duress or threats, it is considered a serious incident of abuse. The child’s best interests are paramount in any custody case, so this would be a mitigating factor not just in custody, but in visitation as well. Parents who are dealing with these allegations might be forced to see the child with supervision and in a limited scope or not get to see the child at all. If the court believes the accuser, then the other parent could be incarcerated, fined and have their entire life turned upside down.
False accusations require a strong legal advocate for a defense
Defending against a domestic violence charge is the priority even before the child custody case proceeds. If the allegations are proven to be false, then this can benefit the accused as it shows that the accuser was using underhanded means and even went as far as filing false police reports and potentially leaving the other parent vulnerable to prosecution and incarceration only to gain custody of a child. Courts are unlikely to look kindly upon this behavior. This does not mean to diminish the number of people who are subjected to domestic abuse each day. The person accused of these acts should know the avenues of defense such as a lack of evidence, self-defense or that the accusations are plainly false. Accusations are not proof of guilt and if they are made during a difficult child custody case, it is vital to craft a defense not just to avoid criminal penalties, but to have a fair child custody decision.