July 25, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Not only has Denmark retreated on shared parenting in the past couple of years, it’s also established a policy that, when a mother accuses a father in a custody case of sexually molesting their child, he’s automatically removed from the child’s life. All it takes is an allegation on her part and he loses all contact with the child including any temporary custody he may have had and all visitation rights. Read about it here (Copenhagen Post, 7/23/14).
Given those incentives to mothers, it’s not surprising that the tactic is used fairly frequently.
Bente Koudal Sørensen from Statsforvaltningen, the government administrative office whose duties include handling divorce and custody cases, said that although there are no official numbers, she estimated that accusations of paedophilia are levelled at fathers at least once a month, according to Kristeligt Dagblad.
Jesper Lohse, the head of Foreningen Fars, a father’s association, said that number is closer to 100 every year, and that most of the accusations are without merit.
Bad as that is, it gets worse. Accusations that are supposed to be processed within three months often take four times that long to decide.
Statsforvaltningen (the government agency that handles divorce and custody matters) is required to respond if a parent accuses their partner of abuse. Accused parents almost always lose contact with their children right away. Sørensen acknowledged that it is hard on both the fathers and the children…
Although visitation rights are typically suspended for three months while a case is being investigated, Lohse said that processing and administrative red tape can often cause fathers and their children to be separated for over a year.
As elsewhere, the longer a father is separated from his child, the more likely it is that he loses custody in the final order. The order barring him from contact during the period the allegation is investigated creates “facts on the ground” that militate in Mom’s favor.
In fact, the time the father is forced to be away can help the mother strengthen her relationship with the child, which in turn strengthens her position in any custody case.
“Courts often decide custody based on which parent has a stronger relationship with the child,” said Sørensen.
Lohse said that a specific court needs to be established to handle charges of paedophilia in custody cases that responds immediately to any accusations…
"We are aware of the dilemma,” she said. “We cannot tell right away who is telling the truth, so we have to investigate any allegations. We know that some of the cases are without cause, but we cannot take any chances.”
Actually, there is no dilemma. The issue of charges of sexual abuse of children or indeed any form of abuse can be dealt with simply and without risk to the child. First, it makes sense to investigate charges as quickly as possible, but it’s also understandable that investigations sometimes take longer than is ideal. But during that time, however long it is, fathers should not be barred from seeing their kids. It’s damaging to children and legally prejudicial to fathers which of course is the whole point of a false allegation in the first place.
So, while an investigation is taking place, the father should have liberal supervised visitation with his child. In the event the charge is unfounded, the mother who made it should be required to pay the fees for the supervised visitation. If the charge is founded, the father should pay; if the investigation is inconclusive, the two should split the cost equally.
Second, if a charge is found by the investigator to be unsubstantiated or outright false, that fact should weigh heavily against Mom getting custody. False charges are not only an abuse of the judicial/administrative process that takes time, energy, money and personnel to deal with, although they are certainly that. Far worse, they’re an overt attempt to deprive children of the fathers who love them and on whom they’ve come to depend emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, financially, etc.
In short, any parent who falsely accuses the other for the purpose of gaining an advantage in a custody matter should have her/his behavior recognized for what it is – child abuse. Usually, child abuse is considered a grave matter and militates strongly against the abusive parent. And so it should in the case of false allegations. But in Denmark, as elsewhere, false allegations by mothers are treated as “no harm, no foul,” i.e. so much a regular part of the business of the agency that processes child custody matters as to be unremarkable.
Denmark takes allegations of child abuse seriously, as it should. But the other side to that coin is that it must take false allegations seriously as well. It completely fails in that obligation and in so doing acts contrary to the best interests of children.
Do Danish fathers accuse mothers? If so, do mothers automatically lose all contact with their children? Are their allegations often unfounded? Do they suffer any consequences if they are? The article touches on none of that and the people interviewed don’t mention it. My guess is that fathers tend to refrain from charging mothers because they don’t believe their allegations will be taken seriously. But there seems to be no information on that. Here in the states, one study of Oregon custody cases by Brinig and Allen strongly suggests that judges there require a higher standard of proof from fathers seeking restraining orders against mothers based on domestic violence or child abuse than of mothers seeking the same.
But whatever the case, Denmark, as every other jurisdiction with which I’m familiar, gives mothers outright advantages over fathers in custody matters. Unsurprisingly, mothers tend to get the majority of the parenting time, at considerable cost to children, fathers, mothers and society generally. Social science has established the value of fathers to children, but the judicial system is having none of it.
When will judges and legislators learn what so many of us have known for decades? And when will they put the information into practice?
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