Vol.06 No.11(2015), Article ID:59077,11 pages

Between Scylla and Charybdis: A Literature Review of Sexual Abuse Allegations in Divorce Proceedings

Anne E. Smit*, Masha V. Antokolskaia, Catrien C. J. H. Bijleveld

Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Copyright © 2015 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).

Received 8 June 2015; accepted 21 August 2015; published 25 August 2015


In this study international literature is reviewed on allegations of child sexual abuse (CSA) during divorce proceedings. It aims to build upon the existing knowledge on this topic by combining empirical findings from various disciplines. We attempted to answer four research questions that focus on 1) the prevalence of CSA allegations in divorce procedures; 2) the response of family court judges; 3) the ratio of founded vs. unfounded allegations of CSA under these circumstances; and 4) the possible consequences of the false positives and false negatives in legal decision making for the children and parents involved. The literature study shows that civil judges often seek professional help. The judge generally tends to (temporarily) stop contact between accused parent and child during an investigation. Additionally, there is a general concern about the many actors involved in such cases. It can also be ca professionals. Thoennes and Pearson (1988) conclude with some recommendations for the evaluation report including taking more family dynamics into account. Bala et al. (2007) pose detailed recommendations for the child, the accusing and the accused parent, and whoever represents these parties. They conclude by saying that some of the recommendations made might be too expensive, and many parents cannot afford the appropriate representation or professionals. Therefore, the authors suggest that the community should provide more support for these services and cases.

Lastly, a non-empirical Dutch article (Van Leuven, 2002) , written by a judge and mediator, gives explicit recommendations for judges on how to respond to CSA allegations in divorce cases. The author bases these recommendations on his personal experiences and are extensions of the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as introduced by Gardner (1985) . Van Leuven highlights the importance of recognizing that even though a CSA allegation during a divorce could call for a response within a public law case, it will have an impact on the privacy of the family. Van Leuven recommends stimulating the interaction within the family after an allegation has been made (especially between the partners). According to Van Leuven, a forensic expert should evaluate the case, and when the allegation is most likely founded, a criminal case should be started. If the allegation is most likely made due to relationship and communication problems, it is very important that the child remains to have contact with both parents, in order to avoid the development of parental alienation. If this is not possible, the child should reside with the parent that is the most emotionally stable, which is most likely the accused parent. This could be seen as a paradoxical move, although according to Gardner this is the only way to prevent or cure PAS (Gardner, 1985) .

All of these recommendations are useful to some extent, although empirical research is needed in order to assess their “success”. Our research indicates that scarce research has been conducted on this topic and therefore there is a lack of systematic knowledge. However, we acknowledge that our review was limited in a number of ways. First, we were restricted by the language, and could only search in the electronic databases for English studies. We were partly able to solve this problem by consulting experts from non-English speaking countries. Second, relevant studies that have not been included in electronic databases were not found. Although this was a limitation to our research, the lack of availability of (especially older) studies is a problem that is faced by others as well.


This research is financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Cite this paper

Anne E.Smit,Masha VAntokolskaia,Catrien C. J. H.Bijleveld, (2015) Between Scylla and Charybdis: A Literature Review of Sexual Abuse Allegations in Divorce Proceedings. Psychology,06,1373-1384. doi: 10.4236/psych.2015.611134


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