Allegations of child maltreatment and neglect, including child sexual abuse, in the context of child custody disputes pose particular challenges for child protection services, family law professionals and the courts to identify children at risk of harm, as well as children impacted and exposed to other risk factors. Accurately identifying child maltreatment requires assessing the background, the history and the context of the allegations in order to differentiate confirmed, unfounded, and fabricated allegations. The paper provides a review of the history and current understanding of allegations within the context of child custody disputes by considering the connections of fabricated allegations to the theory of alienation and the role of gatekeeping. The paper then examines the social science literature regarding allegations within child protection investigations (the prevalence, types of maltreatment, reporter of allegations, and case outcomes) and explores the factors that have contributed to the challenges faced by child protection services to investigate and make determinations regarding allegations within the context of child custody disputes. We argue for early assessment protocols for child protection services to screen child custody cases, to differentiate allegations of alienation from other types of harm, to enhance role clarity in these volatile situations, to refrain from “taking sides” and to work collaboratively with the family law community. Lastly, we offer legal implications to improve collaboration between child protection services and the family law field to better respond to these complex cases.
Saini, M. Laajasalo, T., Platt, S. (2020). Family Court Review 58(2):417-431