Child sexual abuse will affect the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility because the safety of the child becomes the most important consideration.Sexual abuse allegations are scrutinized carefully by the court in parenting cases.
The safety of a child is the most important consideration but this must be carefully balanced with the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with the parent.
Child sexual abuse includes sexual assault, involving the child in sexual activity, exposing or involving the child to pornography, and child prostitution. Inappropriately touching the child and making sexual innuendos also constitutes sexual abuse. In the aforementioned acts, there is an unequal power in the relationship between parent and child.
What can I do?
If your child tells you that he/she is being sexually abused, you must listen carefully and ask the right questions. Watch your child constantly and how he/she interacts with the other parent. Once you are convinced that there is truth to the allegations, you can file a Form 4 with the court which is a notice of child abuse.
Sex related accusations may also be reported to the police for immediate action. A criminal action can be filed against the perpetrator.
The court has the responsibility of protecting the child from further abuse as well as considering the importance of him and his parent having a meaningful relationship.
Courts are mindful that not all sex abuse allegations are truthful. These accusations are often products of parents asking leading questions to their children, lies parents make to gain leverage in a parenting case and misinterpretation of a child’s story. It is not surprising for abuse accusations to surface in parenting proceedings.
If a Form 4 is filed and the case is placed under the Magellan program the court must immediately act on the case and place it on the priority list. One possible effect of being under the program is that the court could order strict deadlines and expedite the hearings for a fast resolution of the case. The parenting proceedings may be suspended with the appointment of an Independent Children’s Lawyer who will be representing the child’s interest. The court can also appoint an expert psychologist or psychiatrist who will interview the child and the parents. The psychologist or psychiatrist will then be ordered to make a report to court. Interim orders can also be issued in case there is yet no final decision.
First of all, the best interest of the child is the paramount consideration in accordance with the Family Law Act 1975. It is presumed to be in the child’s best interest for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. This presumption is balanced with the need to protect the child from all forms of abuse. Between these two considerations, the court will give greater weight to the safety of the child.