Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Psychology

First Advisor

Vincent Van Hasselt

Second Advisor

Jennifer Rohan

Third Advisor

Soledad Arguelles-Borge


abuse allegations, child abuse, divorce, high conflict, psychological functioning, psychopathology


While child abuse within the context of marital or parental dissolution has received some attention, there is an enduring perspective that child abuse within this context rarely occurs, and that most child abuse allegations are fabricated. Not only is there a dearth of existing literature on how often false child abuse allegations occur and the driving variables behind these allegations, little is known about the psychological effects of unfounded child abuse allegations on families. Furthermore, most of the existing literature on this topic was conducted over 30 years ago. Much has changed in recent years with respect to mental health stigmas, family functioning, family dynamics, and household structure. The overall purpose of the present study was to gain further insight into unfounded child abuse allegations. More specifically, the first aim was to describe the families in which child abuse allegations occurred. The second aim was to examine psychological outcomes of parents within families where abuse allegations occurred and compare them to parents within families without abuse allegations. The present study utilized an original data set that was collected on 87 families (mother and/or father, and oldest child). Data was abstracted from written psychological reports produced by two private Court-appointed licensed clinical-forensic psychologists. The parents in these families were already divorced or undergoing divorce proceedings. Parents completed the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – 2nd Edition (MMPI-2) and Parenting Stress Index (PSI).

Results showed that parents who made abuse allegations scored significantly higher on two scales of the MMPI-2: Hysteria and Paranoia; as well as two scales of the PSI: Reinforces Parent and Isolation (p < 0.05). Parents being accused of abuse also scored significantly higher than the accusing parents on the PSI subscales for Reinforces Parent and Attachment (p < 0.05). These findings support that identification of specific parental characteristics of parents who are more likely to engage in false child abuse allegations using standardized assessments may ultimately contribute to the development of effective assessment and intervention models to improve parent, child, and family functioning; ultimately improving psychological outcomes for parents and their children.