Facing the Authorities: What Happens When an Officer Knocks on Your Door?
By Natalie Nichols Gillespie, Author of The Stepfamily Survival Guide (Fleming Revell)
It is a parent’s worst nightmare, and it is happening around this country every day. Your five-year-old opens the door and says, “Daddy? There’s a policeman at the door, and he wants to talk to you.” You walk to the door and the officer, looking at you suspiciously, begins to ask questions about how you recently disciplined your child. Behind him stands a case worker from the Department of Children and Families, who begins making a report.
Parents with nothing but their children’s best interests at heart are being falsely accused every day of abusing their children. Their children are being poked, prodded and questioned by authorities in investigations that strip their innocence and age them far beyond their years. The parent is interrogated, and the parent-child bond is damaged and often destroyed. Sometimes a parent ends up in jail, or visitation is suspended. It is one of the most gut-wrenching, terrifying, and heartbreaking events a parent and child can experience. Our stepfamily knows this first-hand.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not denying that domestic violence and child abuse do occur. But just as real are the false accusations – a nasty tactic to one-up each other in divorce or post-divorce custody proceedings. It is one spouse’s word against the other, extremely difficult to disprove, and it sows seeds of bitterness in former families that can take generations to uproot.
If you are falsely accused of abuse and authorities arrive on your doorstep, be prepared. Here are some suggestions to help you if the worst occurs:
- Get on your knees. You cannot fight this battle of fear, rage, and “he said-she said” without taking it to the Lord and laying at his feet first.
- Know the laws in your state and the constitutional laws that govern your rights to privacy. Step outside the door rather than inviting officers in.
- Contact your attorney immediately (if you have one). Most will advise that you cooperate if you do not have anything to hide. However, be aware that full-blown investigations involve questioning every person in the home at the time of the alleged abuse and may include photographing your children, as well as taking written statements from them.
- Get copies of any police reports filed and DCF reports as they are finished. Follow up with your case workers and police officers if you do not hear from them. The process can take months, and you do not want to be surprised thinking that a case has gone away, only to be contacted seemingly out of the blue by the state attorney’s office. Keep all reports safely filed and out of your children’s sight.
- If you know that your former spouse is unstable, irrational, mentally ill, or bitter and bent on revenge, keep a journal of every contact you have with them. Include the dates and times, the specifics of what was said, and any face-to-face interaction or other details. Keep a running log of phone calls and even failed attempts to make contact. I can’t stress the importance of this journal enough in helping you prepare if you must defend yourself or fight for your children in court!
- Note dates and times that authorities contacted or visited you and what was said. Even better, tape record each interview for your own protection.
- Ask each authority that visits for a business card or contact information. Put case numbers, dates or other significant information on the back of the cards; and keep them all filed safely.
- If you become the target of false accusations of physical or sexual abuse, protect your children and your relationship with them first. If you use spanking as a form of discipline, consider an alternative form so that there can be no suspicions aroused. Be sure to dress appropriately at all times, even at night in your own home. Make sure your children sleep in their own bed, not yours.
- Continue to show your children how much you love them with verbal reassurances, special dates together, hugs and kisses, and lots of laughs. Make every effort to prevent any walls between you and your children, as they may feel or act strangely towards you after being questioned about you.
- Answer questions about the investigation and authorities as honestly as you can, without over-burdening your children and without an accusatory tone or anger toward the authorities or your accuser.
- If you cannot control your anger, pray – and seek counseling immediately.
- Ask the Lord to help you want to forgive your enemy, even while you are still under attack (or investigation).
- Remember that authorities and judges are looking for the party with the “clean hands.” Tell the truth. We have found that truth shines through every time.
While being falsely accused of abuse may be the most frightening and angering situation any parent can experience, it is also a learning tool that can be used by the Lord to grow you to become an even better parent, co-parent and follower of Christ. The times my husband and I grew the closest to each other and to the Lord were when we were in the midst of nail-biting, hair-raising investigations. We knew we were innocent, but proving it was out of our control. We had to rely on him so fully and lean so heavily that we were afraid we would fall over and be destroyed. Instead, he lifted us up and cleared every investigation – every time. He showed us how to forgive to a capacity that we were unaware we could. He taught us to appreciate every second with our precious children and to communicate with them in an open way about subjects we never thought we would have to face.
Through it all, he was ever-present – in courtrooms, before police officers, with guardian ad litems, in front of psychologists and many others. By applying his wisdom and through his grace, we were able to be witnesses for him in situations where our name should have been blackened instead. What the enemy meant for evil, he used for good. He will do the same for you!