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Family, criminal lawyers must work together when abuse alleged

Child abuse allegations add a layer of difficulty and sensitivity to custody battles for counsel on both sides of the dispute, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Samara Shuber writes in Lawyers Weekly.

“The allegations often develop a life of their own, which makes these cases a challenge to resolve,” she writes in the legal publication. “The involvement of Children’s Aid, the police or the Office of the Children’s Lawyer further complicates things, as does the risk of multiple proceedings, including family law, child protection and/or criminal.”

There’s no question that actual abuse suffered by children is horrifying, writes Shuber, noting perpetrators deserve to lose custody of, and contact with, their children, but false allegations are also a reality, and their impact should not be minimized.

“In 2003, a study of reported child abuse based on a sample of 10,756 cases of maltreatment reported to child welfare authorities across Canada determined that five per cent of maltreatment allegations were considered to be intentionally false,” writes Shuber, a lawyer with Beard Winter LLP.

“The rate more than doubles when parties are involved in an ongoing dispute. In the subsample of reports made in the course of a custody dispute, 14 per cent of the abuse allegations were intentionally false. Whatever the statistics, even one false allegation is too many.”

Confirmation of abuse by a physical examination only occurs in a small percentage of cases and assessments by mental health professionals also yield similarly equivocal results, says the article.

What happens when an abuse allegation is made?

“The alleged abuser should retain criminal counsel, even if just on a consultative basis, as soon as an allegation has been made,” writes Shuber, noting it’s important that lawyers on both sides of the case work collaboratively.

“Working together, criminal and family law counsel ensure the best possible outcome for the client,” she writes.

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