Divorce is almost never a simple process, and the introduction of protection orders or allegations of abuse instantly increase the complexity of the case, particularly for the purported offender.
While meant to act as a safety mechanism in cases where domestic violence is present, the ease of obtaining an order of protection and the instant benefits it provides the alleging party has created a system ripe for abuse. In fact, up to 70 percent of cases involving allegations of abuse during custody disputes are deemed unnecessary or false.
Clearly, protection orders that are meant to offer protection for those in serious situations are now being used as a weapon to turn the tide in divorce; a weapon that overwhelming targets men.
As a law firm that has focused on protecting the rights of men and fathers for more than 25 years, our Cordell & Cordell attorneys have seen time and time again situations where there is absolutely no supporting evidence of abuse, yet a protection order will be issued that instantly changes the dynamic of the case.
Men need to understand how simple it is for their spouse to obtain an order of protection, the impact this has on their case and what they can do to fight false allegations of abuse.
Minimal Evidence Is Required
Essentially, all the alleging party must do to obtain a protection order is tell the judge they feel it is necessary.
This does not require much – domestic violence is a very broad category, including the obvious physical altercations, but also emotional abuse or even “perceived” threats.
If you and your spouse get in a heated argument in which both sides raise their voice (which realistically happens in most heated arguments), your wife could go to the judge and claim to feel endangered, which would be grounds for an immediate temporary restraining order.
The majority of the time, judges will grant these requests, as it typically requires a mere “preponderance of evidence” standard. This means that a party must simply prove that it is more likely than not that the abuse occurred.
Since protection orders are done on an emergency, ex-parte basis, the defendant does not get an opportunity to explain their side of the case before the order is issued. This means you can be served with a protection order without even knowing charges had been filed in the first place, which can lead to a number of consequences for weeks — or even months — before you have an opportunity to stand before the judge at a formal hearing.
The Impact Of A Protection Order (On Divorce And Beyond)
Once an order of protection is issued, the complexion of a divorce case is immediately altered. Oftentimes, these are filed as a way to force the father out of the home and away from his children to give the mother an edge in obtaining custody.
Since a major aspect of a court’s custody determination includes each parent’s role in the daily care of the children, having the father forcibly removed from the home with little to no contact can be catastrophic if his goal is to obtain primary or equal parenting time after the divorce.
It can also create a financial strain, as they have to quickly and unexpectedly find a new place to live, along with potentially being required to pay child support, spousal support and continuing to contribute to the expenses of the marital home.
Additionally, even if the charges are found to be groundless and eventually dismissed, it can impact the life of the accused further down the road. Temporary orders issued may appear in criminal background checks and potentially hinder future employment opportunities.
Fighting False Allegations Of Abuse
If your spouse files charges of abuse and obtains a temporary protection order, you must act immediately to mitigate the potential damage to your case. While there is little you can do until your hearing, the steps you take in preparing will go a long way towards getting the charges dismissed.
First, you will want to contact an attorney immediately and let them know what has happened, as well as any information you have on the potential charges. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the best steps to take next, and if you do not have an attorney, you need to get one.
Next, you will want to start preparing evidence to show at your hearing. Texts, emails, voicemails, video or audio recordings — basically anything you can find to help support your case during the hearing. This will be particularly beneficial if you demonstrate your spouse has threatened to file charges to gain advantage or has some other motive.
You will also want to find witnesses who can help corroborate your side of the story if they were present at any of the incidents brought up by your spouse, or who may be able to testify to your character.
Finally, make sure to maintain your composure when you are at your hearing. Your attorney will be able to advise you on how to act, but you need to avoid doing anything that hurts your credibility or presents you in a bad light, such as raising your voice or even glaring at the opposing party. Keeping your emotions in check may be difficult when blatantly false charges you supposedly committed are discussed, but it is crucial not to display any signs of even subtle anger.
It is unfortunate that protection orders have become more of a weapon in divorce than a tool to help those in desperate situations; however, that has become the law of the land. Even false allegations can have a major impact on your divorce and your future, so it is crucial that if these sorts of charges arise in your divorce that you contact an attorney immediately to dispute, and hopefully refute, these unfair allegations.
For more information on how domestic violence impacts divorce, including what to do if you fear your spouse will file false charges and how men can also be victims of abuse, check out our latest Men’s Divorce Podcast: Domestic Violence And Your Divorce
by Joseph E. Cordell