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Terri Weiss Headshot

The Lousiest Family Court Order

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Let's discuss the bad, no, let's make that the absolute worst, court order in family law cases where kids are involved: The temporary order of protection, more affectionately known as the TOP.

First, a disclaimer: Some TOPs have validity, and some actually work. There are people who seriously need to be protected from abusive or threatening individuals, and are at imminent risk of harm. The resulting TOP will work if the respondent has a lingering remnant of respect for the law, or fear of repercussion -- like arrest or imprisonment -- if s/he violates the order. (Many doubt that a simple piece of paper will dissuade a truly violent person from his/her intended harm.) And the TOP is better yet if the police are quick to enforce it. These are the meritorious orders. Who in their right mind can quarrel with them?

But bogus TOPs are more often the norm, and they hurt everyone.

In meritorious cases, family court judges can become so inured to requests for TOP's that at-risk people may be denied the protection they need, sometimes with horrific consequences. It happens, and not just in big cities, either.

What about the respondent in the completely bogus TOP case? S/he is usually cut off from the kids, suddenly and indefinitely -- with little or no physical, telephone, written or even electronic contact -- while the case gets adjourned ad nauseum, based on allegations s/he never even had a chance to contest in court prior to the issuance of the TOP.

And the kids in these cases? Usually they're confused by the abrupt disappearance of one parent. If they're lucky, they won't get poisoned too much by the petitioner or his/her friends and relatives. Chances are, they will. Therapists, come on and join the gang of total strangers (judges, law guardians, child protective services, forensic evaluators, etc. etc.) now intruding on this family.

Let's not forget the petitioner, who thinks s/he has just scored big-time in the impending custody battle. S/he may not have noticed the damage s/he has just caused his/her family - which no custody award in his/her favor will ever erase. And s/he runs the risk that a very patient respondent -- one who's prepared to ride the waves of mostly negative rulings for a while, and who's hired a good lawyer - will eventually expose the phony claims. If the respondent has a fair amount of facts in his/her favor, s/he may even prove it's the petitioner who's really harming the family. Boom. Custody unexpectedly awarded to the respondent.

And everyone will have nice hefty legal fees for their efforts.

There, now, wasn't that a productive exhibition of hostility?