Allegations During Divorce Leading to CPS Involvement

Suppose parents of Lilia, age 2, and Kristin, age 12 are amid a divorce. Living in separate homes, the husband allegedly punishes Lilia for bed-wetting by striking her and locking her in a bathroom for 12 hours. Lilia cuts herself on broken glass while confined. Upon Kristin reporting what she saw to her mother the wife makes a police report which results in a CPS report of the suspected maltreatment. A traditional CPS investigation is commenced wherein Husband admits locking Lilia in the bathroom, but denies that it was for 12 hours or that Lilia cut herself while at his house. A CHIPS petition is filed.

Can a family court issue an order regarding custody or parenting time when there is an open juvenile protection case?

The juvenile court has “original and exclusive jurisdiction” in proceedings concerning any child alleged to be in need of protection or services. As a practical matter, most custody/parenting time proceedings in family court are “stayed” pending resolution of an open CHIPS case.

However, in appropriate cases, juvenile protection proceedings under chapter 260C may be maintained concurrently with custody proceedings.

Additionally, the district court has the authority to hear certain motions under either the juvenile court CHIPS proceeding or the family court marital dissolution action.

What happens in the family court proceeding when child abuse allegations are unfounded or found to be malicious?

The court is required to consider evidence of false allegations of child abuse in determining the best interests of the child.

Abuse allegations that are unsubstantiated can lead to an award of custody to the other parent or modification of custody

Apart from the family court, any person who “knowingly or recklessly makes a false report”  of child maltreatment to the police or CPS shall be liable to a civil suit for any actual damages suffered by the person or persons so reported and for any punitive damages set by the court or jury, plus costs and reasonable attorney fees.

As a practical matter, it is often difficult to prove that abuse allegations, even those that are deemed “unsubstantiated” were malicious or deliberately concocted by the other parent. In the family court context, the court is likely to consider unproven allegations within the overall pattern of conduct by the parents, including whether the parent who made the allegations has a pattern of discouraging or thwarting the relationship between the other parent and the children over the course of time.