The misuse of orders of protection by women when going through a divorce is one of the more prevalent and unfortunate trends in family law. A system that was designed to protect against abuse is itself being abused.
The terminology of orders of protection varies by state (they can be called protection from abuse orders, domestic violence injunctions, etc.), but to me they are better known as tactical nuclear weapons.
A Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) report published earlier this year estimated that 85% of protective orders are entered against men. I believe that upwards of 90% of those orders are products of tactical divorce considerations.
In fact, many people are encouraged by their lawyers to seek this protection without cause because of the beneficial position gained by this strategic move.
These orders are easy to obtain -- all a woman has to do is say that she is in reasonable fear for her safety. Documented evidence of abuse is not required.
Protective orders are often entered on an "emergency" basis without notice to the defending party and then set for a full hearing date several weeks out. Courts will do this in order to maintain the status quo until proper notice can be given to the now restrained party and a hearing can be held.
With a small statement, the accused (again, the man in about 85% of the cases) can be forced to stay out of the home, barred from parenting time, and prevented from any contact with his children, including through phone and email. In an instant, his house and kids can be taken away from him.
In effect, the order becomes a de facto sole child custody order.
These hearings, and the resulting orders, can be arbitrary at best. At Cordell & Cordell, we once had a case where the wife petitioned for a domestic abuse restraining order.
The wife made various false allegations, and we disproved or showed how she did not meet her burden on all of them. The judge found that nothing in the petition was credible or amounted to abuse or threats of abuse.
However, the judge said he watched our client's behavior and found that during the hearing, the client was glaring at his wife. The judge found that behavior to be intimidating to his wife and granted the injunction based on that courtroom behavior being a threat.
Time and time again, I have seen orders of protection treat the man like a criminal when there is no basis for the endangerment claims. These men are law-abiding citizens and great fathers who see their rights challenged or completely vanish in court.
Even if the allegations of abuse are found to be false and the protective order is dismissed at the full hearing, these men are still victimized by the stigma that they are abusers.
Having an order of protection entered against you may affect your criminal history record and many times protective orders are visible on background checks for employment.
So the unnecessary or false orders entered result in persistent damage to the innocent dad's reputation, career prospects, financial status, and his standing in the eyes of his children.
Of course, orders of protection have their place when protecting someone against abuse; no individual, man or woman, should be subjected to this in a relationship. However, this protection is abused and mostly to the benefit of women.
Joseph Cordell is the Principal Partner of Cordell & Cordell, a nationwide domestic litigation firm focused on men's family law matters. Cordell & Cordell also provides a website dedicated to informing men on the divorce process and the challenges they face. Visit http://www.dadsdivorce.com for more information.
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