Sadly, restraining order abuse has recently emerged as a very potent tool to gain tactical advantage in divorce. Those on the receiving end of restraining order abuse typically find it to be extremely disruptive in their lives, limiting access to their children and property.
A restraining order is a court order limiting the contact of one individual with another or, as in a case involving children, several others. This includes direct physical contact, phone and mail contact, contact in the home, contact at work, etc. For instance, a restraining order may prohibit a person from coming within 100 feet of their own home. These are brought on by litigants claiming they need protection from abuse or stalking from another person.
In the case of divorce, one spouse can file against the other, typically claiming domestic violence or fears of it. Unfortunately, many such cases are now being abused as a way to disempower the opponent and get the upper hand in separation and divorce proceedings.
Respondents find there can be both in difficulty seeing their children and even obtaining access to home, personal and even pre-marital property as is presumably guaranteed by the 4th Amendment . Criminal records can even be a consequence when parties do not understand all the legal implications of restraining orders used during divorce.
It is far easier for a party to get a restraining order now than ever before because federal laws have changed substantiallly within the last 15 years. In addition, many states have enacted other laws making for wide disparaties among the states as for abuse potential. Collectively, this greatly reduces the burden of proof needed to get restraining orders and otherwise exploit them.
These changes were made in a noble effort to protect domestic violence victims. However, they quickly came to the attention of unscrupulous divorce lawyers as well as savvy litigants .
The burden to prove that a restraining order is not called for or the terms of it are not reasonable has largely shifted to the recipient of it who must then fight for their rights through lengthy court proceedings and expensive legal representation. Often this occurs while simultaneously being homeless and having their personal property under the control of the accuser. Separation from their children during stages in the litigation can be very lengthy and lead to parental alienation. The resulting hostility between divorcing legal combatants can be tremendous and can certainly spill over to affect their innocent children.
This topic remains controversial because there is clearly a need to protect women (and some men) from domestic violence situations, however many restraining order injunctions appear to be misused as one form of “divorce dirty tricks” or as a method to harass the other party.
As evidence that this kind of legal maneuvering has become widespread, a Wikipedia page for “restraining order abuse” has existed since April 2006. Wikipedia pages are community-policed repositories of knowledge used by many people. However, the neutrality of this particular page has been debated. Since those who really do need protection from abusers may lose their lives if they don’t get it, there is considerable debate.
However, action to change these laws due to documented abuse of them could be eminent. The American Civil Liberties Union made many recommendations against the passage of these laws and also has experience in ways they are used to restrict civil liberties.
In the mean time, a variety of cases have come to light of restraining order abuse including accusations against talk show host David Letterman who defended himself publicly on his own show. Obviously, few average citizens have access to this type of publicity to defend themselves.
Mostly spearheaded by “Men’s Rights” groups and “Father’s Rights” groups, nonetheless women can find themselves at jeopardy fighting frivolous or heavy-handed restraining orders. Children remain estranged from parents accused ex parte (not present to defend themselves) while the divorce “family law” industry convolutes the intentions of the new laws and lengthy court battles ensue. Financial ruin also often accompanies those hog-tied by the new “legal machine” which requires substantial money to fund.
Divorce “Family Law” attorneys profit handsomely, so fuel thrown on top of domestic fire is often not spared. Cases involving accusations of domestic abuse take on a life of their own, usurping control from the original litigants and often going well beyond what even the complainant had in mind.
In addition, an entire industry of expensive visitation services has sprouted up, partly in response to the problem. Those accused in restraining orders typically have no other way to see their children than by paying large sums for supervised parental visitation. In such visits, a social worker takes copious and often critical notes on everything said or done by the accused in very artificial visits with their children.
Another effect of restraining order abuse is the tarnishing of the reputations of those accused. Having a restraining order on file puts a mark on one’s criminal record which can prevent one from obtaining jobs, housing and other assets normally considered civil liberties. Even the credit reporting bureaus look unfavorably upon those who have restraining orders in effect.
How to Deal With Restraining Order Abuse
Typically, those dealing with restraining (“protection”) orders must walk a very thin line while litigation is ongoing. This means insuring at great lengths that they make no contact deemed inappropriate that the complainant in the case and their lawyer(s) can use. These matters are considered criminal offenses rather than civil and any variance in strictly defined contact can result in jail time and criminal records.
It is not unknown for complainants to actually bait respondents into violating the orders in some way to gain legal advantage. For instance, telling them to “come on over” where a distance restriction is in effect. In addition, accidentally coming within X feet of the complainant’s domicile can be considered inexcusable and subject for action. Or, in one case, a respondent opened the door to help his child enter into the domicile of the custodial parent resulting in his arrest.
When respondents need or desire property under the control of the complainant, sometimes including their own clothing, vehicles used for work, etc, extreme care must be used in cooperation with the local police department to obtain it. Involving the local police is called a “police assist” which is requested by the person barred from the home. A policeman goes to the domicile of the excluded complainant and the policeman can negotiate for the items needed. This may provide some relief, but any items claimed by the complainant as joint property can unilaterally be denied the respondent.
Any respondent in a restraining order case must comply with court orders and is forced to make do when property including that used for making a living is denied. Often, this can be done with acrimony and is used as a method to exact revenge. Ironically, in a divorce even the complainant can suffer monetarily if the respondent’s finances become diminished enough to affect the final settlement or ongoing child support.
Finally, the divorce industry itself has entered into the fray they largely created by newly beginning to offer “Restraining Order Defense” as a service! Following this legal advice to the letter (and often paying dearly for it) is recommended.
One Man’s Experience
One man, Ron Lasorsa, is a poignant example of an ordinary father accused falsely in a restraining order by his former wife. Blindsided by this false restraining order, he suffered:
Estrangement from his children (including mandated parental supervised visits)
An emotion-filled legal battle
Extremely expensive legal bills
A fight to clear his name and defend his reputation
The denial of access to his rightful property (including firearms).
Restraining order abuse is one of the newest forms of twisting well-intentioned laws for personal advantage, particularly in divorce proceedings. Those fighting restraining order abuse often end up alienated from their children and isolated in an oppressing legal struggle that also limits access to their property sometimes including property they use to make a living.
Individuals subjected to the abuse are now banding together and fighting back. Books have now been written with instructions to deal with this “restraining order madness” and are available in hardback or online. Respondents now have information to defend themselves against this new class of “divorce dirty tricks”.
Various organizations have sprouted up to defend against this type of abuse and the modification of these laws seems eminent. Sadly, this may result in chipping away at laws used by genuine domestic violence victims to defend themselves against true abusers.
by: Laura Deibel