Contested divorces and other family law matters often involve child abuse or neglect allegations. A spiteful ex or family member might lie to Child Protective Services to win a custody case. An investigation can follow, potentially resulting in a court order to remove your child from your home.
Although the situation is scary and overwhelming, options are available to defend yourself. You don’t have to wait for the investigation results and the judge’s decision about whether you can maintain custody of your son or daughter. Taking immediate action is essential to disprove the allegations and potentially hold someone accountable for the false accusations.
How Child Protective Services Investigates Complaints
Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates complaints involving neglect, abuse, or mistreatment of children. Before submitting a report, caseworkers conduct thorough investigations to determine whether a child is at risk of harm.
According to Virginia Code § 63.2-1517, CPS is legally authorized to take a child into custody for up to 72 hours without the parent or guardian’s approval if:
- Continuing to live in the home or care of the parent, guardian, or custodian, or another person responsible for the child’s care presents an imminent danger to the child’s health or life and will likely lead to severe or irreparable injury, or abuse is evident or likely to worsen before holding a hearing;
- A court order isn’t immediately obtainable;
- The court has procedures for placing those children;
- A report is made with a local department;
- The CPS worker or a physician notifies the parents or guardians as soon as possible after taking the child; and
- The person or agency taking the child into custody notifies the court and obtains an emergency removal order as soon as possible but no later than 72 hours after removing the child.
If CPS determines the allegations are legitimate, a caseworker can obtain witness statements and other evidence, such as pictures, to include in their report with their determination. They must complete the report within 60 days and submit it to the Department and the subject of the investigation.
How to Handle a CPS Investigation
If CPS investigates you for allegations of abuse or neglect, refusing to cooperate isn’t in your best interests. You have a right to hire a CPS defense lawyer and have them with you during questioning. Remain calm and treat the caseworker with respect.
Gathering relevant evidence to disprove the allegations is crucial. Evidence might include:
- Cell phone records to show you weren’t with your child during the alleged abuse
- Video surveillance footage of the alleged incident
- Statements from family members and friends
- Photos and other visual evidence that the abuse never occurred
The people closest to you can talk to the caseworker or testify on your behalf during a court hearing. They can speak about your abilities as a parent and your loving relationship with your child. It might help your case if they tell the caseworker that they have never seen you abuse or mistreat your child.
What Happens to an Unfounded Allegation?
You have the right to petition for information about the person who reported you to CPS if the Department determines the allegation is unfounded. Knowingly making false reports of abuse or neglect is a crime.
According to Virginia Code § 63.2-1513, anyone at least 14 years old who reports or causes a report of child abuse or neglect commits a Class 1 misdemeanor. Sentencing for a Class 1 misdemeanor includes:
- No more than a $2,500 fine;
- Up to twelve months in jail; or
Defend Yourself with an Experienced Family Lawyer
At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., we understand the consequences of a child abuse or neglect allegation. If CPS determines the report is valid, a pending investigation could destroy your family and prevent you from spending time with your child.
We could provide aggressive legal representation during your case and work diligently to obtain evidence to prove the allegation is unfounded. If you face false allegations of child abuse or neglect, call us at (757) 962-5588 for a confidential consultation with a family lawyer in Virginia Beach, VA.