THE BLOG
11/04/2011 04:09 am ET | Updated Jan 03, 2012

The Easiest Lie

Not long ago I had a client in Texas who came to me desperate for help in regaining custody of his daughter. He said the courts disallowed him for seeing her for three months and had threatened to kick him out of his house. They also told him they had the power to issue a permanent protective or restraining order, grant his ex-wife's demand that he only have supervised visitation and require him to enter in to an anger management or batterer's intervention class. Upon hearing that last provision I asked the natural question, "Did you hit her?" He replied that not only didn't he hit her but he had never been physically violent towards her. Having been at this for a while I knew what to ask next. "What did she say you did?" He responded with the words that kicked off his nightmare as it has done for countless men. "She said I raised my voice and was frightened I was going to hurt her and the baby."

A sea change took place in the area of Domestic Violence following the tragic murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Approximately three months after her death in 1994, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This legislation empowered the federal government to take part in the fight against domestic violence and provides more than $1 billion a year to increase investigation and prosecution efforts.

But as is frequently the case with legislation passed with the best of intentions there have been unintended consequences. According to a study done by the non-profit advocacy group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, more than 700,000 individuals are falsely accused and arrested for domestic violence each year. And beyond the damage done to the individual, the taxpayer pays a price as well with an estimated $20 billion a year going to social welfare programs to support single-parent families that have been harmed by false accusations of domestic violence.

When one parent wants to take unfair advantage in a divorce or custody case, all that is needed is a claim of domestic violence and the wheels are set in motion. A Domestic Violence Restraining Order is issued and the court will automatically suspend parental rights of the accused. These orders are meant to be a protective measure by the courts. They are to prevent truly violent people from harming innocents and fathers who are truly guilty of domestic violence or child abuse should be viewed as criminals and treated as such.

But in the bitter arena that is divorce court, the charge of domestic violence -- the vast majority of which are made by women -- and the reaction by the judicial system to it has caused the pendulum to swing too far. There are currently 32 states with civil definitions that classify domestic violence as a spouse being fearful, apprehensive or experiencing emotional distress. All it takes is a claim of "I was afraid" and, valid or not, the "victim" is now presumed to be a better parent and has an advantage when the court makes final determinations of child custody, visitation, and move-away plans to new cities, states or countries. Provocation, not having a history of violence or even being the abused victim, is irrelevant.

In our rush to avoid tragedies through a "zero tolerance policy," claims of domestic violence have become a fast track process by which unscrupulous parties gain sole custody of the children based on a lie, a lie that is shockingly easy to tell. The result of this gamesmanship is that our courts become overloaded, resources are diverted away from the true victims of domestic violence and children grow up in single-parent homes with little or no access to both biological parents.

In the case of my client in Texas, his soon-to-be-ex-wife abducted the child to California where she sought protection based on her lies regarding the potential for violence by my client. I say "lies" due to the fact that by the time her lawyer and I had developed the facts and worked out a deal, the baby was being sent back to Texas because my client was shown to be the more loving, peaceful, stable, nurturing and capable parent despite working full time. But this case was an anomaly.

VAWA was enacted to help stop spousal abuse and I believe was created with the best intentions. But in its overzealousness a new abuse has been created and perpetuated -- the marginalization of fathers through false accusations. No one wants to turn a blind eye to violence of any kind and offenders should and must be prosecuted. But until VAWA and the courts recognize that guilty until proven innocent goes against everything we claim to stand for, more injustices will take place and more lives will be ruined.

By David T. Pisarra, Esq.
Men's Rights Lawyer
www.mensfamilylaw.com
Author of A Man's Guide To Domestic Violence, A Man's Guide to Divorce Strategy, A Man's Guide To Child Custody and the just released What About Wally: Co-Parenting A Pet With Your Ex. Available on Amazon.com, and BarnesAndNoble.com