Among many other states, Florida has taken a strong stance when it comes to protecting innocent children from being exposed to those who have been accused of sexually abusing them. In 2007, The Keeping Children Safe Act was adopted in the Florida legislative session and was intended to be utilized when a child’s parent, relative, or caregiver has been accused of any form of sexual abuse. The Act demands that until the matter can be presented in a court hearing, protective actions must be put in put in place to prevent the child from potentially being re-exposed to any further abuse.
At first glance, most individuals who care about children would quickly determine that this law is a very responsible way of preventing children from being exposed to their abusers, as it is clearly not in a child’s best interest to be continuously re-traumatized until the truth can be determined through investigations and court hearings.
But, what happens when there has been absolutely no abuse of any kind, nor has there ever been? What if the accusations have come from a relentless person who is willing to stop at NOTHING to destroy the bond and healthy relationship that exists between a parent and child? When this occurs, the result is a devastating attempt at parental alienation through false allegations of sexual abuse. There is almost nothing worse in family law divorce cases, primarily because the issue provokes so much emotion and fear in the professionals involved.
Bottom line: We don’t want to get it wrong, and generally speaking, professionals would rather be safe than sorry. .
As a consequence of this, once an accusation is made, even if it is completely false, section 39.0139 of the Florida Statutes initially restricts the court from ordering visitation or contact between the child and adult unless the visitation or contact occurs in a supervised visitation program that conforms to specified standards.
What is even more concerning though, is that there are additional rules established by the Keeping Children Safe Act, that are used by a handful of extremely unethical parents to even further prevent access between their child and their ex-spouse, and perhaps strengthen their position in a child custody dispute. To clarify, under certain circumstances, even supervised visitation sessions can be entirely suspended if certain information is presented to the court.
1. If any party or participant is told by the child, or has other firsthand knowledge that a person is attempting to influence the testimony of the child, the court shall immediately suspend visitation or other contact. The court shall then hold a hearing to determine if it is in the child’s best interest to resuming visits.
2. If a child is in therapy because of the allegations or convictions and the child’s therapist says the visitation or other contact is impeding the child’s therapeutic progress, the court shall hold a hearing within 7 business days to review the terms, conditions, or appropriateness of continued visitation or other contact.
Basically, when these allegations are made, a rebuttable or refutable “Presumption of Detriment” is created, and the accused is faced with the burden of defending his or herself, and their right for time with their child. In fact, the accused is essentially in a position where they are “guilty until proven innocent” and may have contact with the child ONLY after there is a hearing and an order by the Court allowing such to occur.
In situations where false allegations have been made, some parental alienators have learned to manipulate our well intending court system to facilitate their selfish goal of destroying the relationship between the child and other parent. Special attention must be given to this matter, and when professionals begin to identify multiple or excessive incidents of “unfounded” allegations of sexual abuse, it seems pertinent to motion the court or privately hire a highly specialized expert to assess for other signs of parental alienation or unnecessary Gatekeeping behaviors. Without this, the Keeping Children Safe Act and the associated rebuttable presumption of detriment will continue puts the falsely accused parent in a very vulnerable position, while also putting the child’s mental health at risk, by unnecessarily preventing parenting time with an otherwise healthy attachment figure.