The extent, nature, and validity of sexual abuse allegations in custody/visitation disputes

Child Abuse Negl. 1990;14(2):151-63. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(90)90026-p.


Using information from mail and telephone surveys and personal interviews with legal and mental health professionals who deal with child abuse cases, and empirical data from 12 domestic relations courts throughout the United States, the study concludes that only a small proportion of contested custody and visitation cases involve sexual abuse allegations. Records maintained by family court workers place the figure at less than 2%. A sample of 169 cases for which data were gathered from court counselors, family court, and CPS agency files also found that accusations were brought by mothers (67%) and fathers (28%) and third parties (11%). Fathers were accused in 51% of all cases, but allegations were also made against mothers, mothers' new partners, and extended family members. In the 129 cases for which a determination of the validity of the allegation was available, 50% were found to involve abuse, 33% were found to involve no abuse, and 17% resulted in an indeterminate ruling. Four factors were significantly associated with the perceived validity of the abuse report: age of the victim, frequency of the alleged abuse, prior abuse/neglect reports, and the amount of time elapsing between filing for divorce and the emergence of the allegation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / epidemiology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child Custody / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child Welfare / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Referral and Consultation / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States / epidemiology