News and Commentary

Child Custody Domestic Violence False Allegations Law & Justice Sexual Assault

Family Courts Increasingly Are Holding False Accusers Accountable for Their Actions

Sharing is caring!

Family Courts Increasingly Are Holding False Accusers Accountable for Their Actions


April 1, 2022

Over the years, people have asked how to seek recompense for false allegations and other abusive litigation tactics.  Family law cases have a tendency to bring out bad behavior in people, and false allegations have an unfortunate tendency to arise with greater frequency in such cases.

Following are examples of three family law cases:

  1. In Leisinger v. Jacobson, 2002 SD 108 (S.D. 2002), a South Dakota man sued his ex-wife for making a series of false allegations during the pendency of their divorce. Among other things, she “orchestrated [a] protection order, and violations of it, to obtain leverage against him in the divorce.” The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed a malicious prosecution verdict in which a jury ordered the ex-wife to pay $13,754 in damages to her ex-husband.  The jury also ordered her to pay $120,000 in punitive damages, which the Supreme Court reduced to $25,000.
  2. In a 2010 case titled Bloch v. Bloch, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a trial order that dismissed a malicious prosecution case that was based on false allegations made during a divorce. During the divorce case, the wife sought full custody of the couple’s minor child. Wife made false reports of physical abuse by him and reported or caused to be reported a number of false allegations of sexual abuse by the husband against the couple’s child. These allegations resulted in two separate child protective service (CPS) investigations, a psychological review of the parties and the child, and a number of police investigations. Husband was also forced to undergo a psychological evaluation, a polygraph examination, and was subject to at least one arrest. During the divorce proceedings, the trial court found the allegations were without merit, a finding supported by the psychologist who examined the parties and the child. Based on these facts, the Court of Appeals allowed the husband’s malicious prosecution case against his ex-wife to proceed.
  3. In Norberg v. Norberg, 2017 ND 14 (N.D. 2017), the North Dakota Supreme Court allowed a case to proceed against a woman who falsely accused her husband of sexual assault in an effort to win custody of their children. The false allegations resulted in her husband being tried and acquitted of rape.

The North Dakota Supreme Court earlier affirmed a trial decision that awarded sole custody of the couple’s children to the falsely accused ex-husband. The trial court found the wife’s report of sexual abuse was untrue and nothing more than her attempt to get custody of the parties’ children.  The court also found that she lied to the children about her allegations, which alienated the children from their father and may have damaged his relationship with them. The court found her lies were strong evidence of her moral unfitness because the children had to deal with news accounts of their father’s criminal trial and the intrusions of supervised parenting time, and the lies put their father at risk of going to prison:

Malicious Prosecution

The family law cases discussed above all involved false allegations of rape and/or child abuse, which resulted in criminal investigations. It’s hard to image a more malicious act than to falsely accuse someone of rape or child abuse.

That said, malicious prosecution claims should only be brought in egregious situations – those that involve malice.  Malicious prosecution claims are generally disfavored in the law because of their potential chilling effect on people’s willingness to bring legitimate claims. Trial lawyers David Parker and William Mills write:

Malicious prosecution claims have long been recognized as having a chilling effect on an ordinary citizen’s willingness to bring a dispute to court, and as a result the tort is often characterized as a “disfavored cause of action.”

It is not simply a matter of a chilling effect on the public – it affects lawyers as well. “[T]here is a basic and important policy that public access to the courts should be unfettered by threats of retaliatory litigation. Access to the courts would be illusory if plaintiffs were denied counsel of their choice, because attorneys feared being held liable as insurers of the quality of their clients’ cases. Few attorneys would be willing to prosecute close and difficult matters, and virtually none would dare challenge the propriety of established legal doctrines.”  (citations omitted)


What are the takeaways from these cases for both lawyers and parties?

For lawyers, the takeaway is “do your diligence.”  Don’t merely repeat what your client tells you.  This is true at the start of the case as well as at all times during the pendency of the case.  If you learn during the pendency of the case that your allegations are false or unfounded, don’t repeat them.

Above all, don’t make unfounded allegations in an attempt to gain leverage.  If you allege child abuse or domestic violence in an effort to bolster your case and lose, you’ll certainly lose credibility with the court.  You might also find yourself a defendant in a malicious prosecution case.

For parties, don’t make unfounded allegations in an attempt to gain leverage.  For many years, this was considered a low-risk strategy – the so-called “silver bullet.”  However, things have changed.  These unsavory tactics not only are increasingly unlikely to carry the day, they may backfire and cause you to lose the case.  Even worse, you might get sued by your former partner after the case is over.