The child abuse and divorce myth

Thea Charlotte Brown, Margarita Frederico, Lesley Dawne Hewitt, Rosemary Joan Sheehan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


When the authors of this article undertook a study into the way the Australian legal process managed child abuse allegations in custody and access disputes following partnership breakdown in de facto and legal marriages, they encountered what they came to think of as ‘the child abuse and divorce myth’. The myth centred around a belief that child abuse allegations made during or after partnership breakdown were weapons fashioned to gain advantage in the marital war. Therefore, they were not real; therefore, they should not be taken seriously. Despite little previous research, these views were strongly held by both families and professionals. The article examines the myth, believed to be an international phenomenon, and shows, in detail, how the study's findings do not support it. In fact, the findings from this unique study contradict the myth in its totality and in its specific aspects. Thus, it is argued that the myth should be abandoned and a new knowledge base for professional intervention that recognizes the reality of this problem be adopted instead. As a result of the study, a new specialized intervention program for children involved in residence and contact disputes where child abuse was alleged is being trialled in the Family Court of Australia. Hopefully, the introduction of further intervention programmes based on the reality of child abuse in these circumstances rather than on the myth will follow. Copyright.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-124
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Child abuse
  • Marital breakdown

Cite this