The Quest for Peace on Earth: Domestic Violence & the Holidays
I recently read a heart wrenching story about three young brothers from Michigan who are now missing after a court-ordered visit with their father over Thanksgiving. The mother reported the boys missing after their father failed to return the boys. The father attempted suicide on the day after Thanksgiving and has said he gave the boys to a woman whom he had asked to drive them to their mother's home because he didn't want the boys to see him commit suicide. The boys never arrived home. The police have not even been able to confirm this woman's existence. The father has been charged with parental kidnapping, yet his motive and exact actions remain unclear at this time. My heart breaks for the mother of these boys as both an attorney and a mom.
The mother filed for divorce in September and was awarded sole temporary custody. A month ago, the father was granted temporary visitation rights. As an attorney, I know the mother had no choice but to allow her boys to go visit their father. Even if she felt they might be harmed by their father or while in their father's care, she still had to hand over the boys or she would have been in contempt of a court order.
As a mom, I understand the uneasy, panicky feeling that your children could be in danger. I can only imagine the hollow, shattering, sheer terror of knowing your children are in danger and not being able to do anything about it. In this case, the police have not given up hope of finding these boys, and I pray for the safe return of these boys.
This festively bright and merry holiday season is a time of celebrating, catching up with family and friends, gift giving, laughing and spreading joy, for most, but it can also be a time of stress, parties where alcohol is served and memories from Christmases past that weren't filled with holiday joy. Add to this, unemployment and financial woes that tend to add even more strain to already explosive relationships, and often this combination can lead to incidents of domestic violence.
While domestic violence of any kind at any time of year is heartbreaking, it's especially unsettling during the holidays. And in fact, it's during the holidays that reports of domestic violence actually increase. Some research shows 911 calls regarding domestic violence increase by 22% on Thanksgiving; 17% on Christmas; and 32% on New Year's Eve.
If you (or someone you know) are in a violent relationship the first step to regaining control over your life is to call the police and report the violence. A report will be filed and criminal charges may also be filed against the person committing the acts of domestic violence. To further protect you and/or your children, you will need to petition for a protective order.
Most laws relating to domestic violence are state laws. Each state has its own term for the particular protective court order. However, in general, the protective order is a type of injunction that stops a person from coming near another person and his or her home, place of work, child's school or daycare or even other family members' homes. This type of court order is referred to as a restraining order; an order for protection; a protection from abuse order; temporary or permanent order for protection, etc. For state specific information, see http://www.womenslaw.org/laws.php.
Getting a Protective Order
You will have to go to court to obtain a protective order. Often, there are domestic violence advocates through the sheriff's office or the court system who can help with the process of filing a petition and going before a judge to obtain such an order. It's important to have as much specific information regarding the abuse and any evidence such as, photos, text messages, emails, etc. to present to the court.
Here is a general description of the process for obtaining a protective order (however, keep in mind, the exact procedure will vary from state to state):
If the judge decides you are indeed in need of a protective order, he or she will grant your petition immediately. This will be your temporary order. You will need to carry a copy with you at all times and file one copy with the police;
After the order is issued, it becomes effective once the abuser is notified by the Court by receiving a copy of the order;
Within 10 days to 4 weeks, you will have to attend another hearing where your abuser will get a chance to tell his or her side of the story. You and your abuser may bring attorneys. Or you can contact the local domestic violence program for help in finding a pro-bono attorney and/or aid in preparing "your case" against your abuser;
You must be prepared to tell your story again. Bring witnesses and all available evidence that shows abuse, threats, violence, etc.;
The judge can extend the protective order for a year or more if it appears from the evidence presented that there is a continued need for such an order.
An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection (AARDVARC) points out that a protective order can do many things:
Any of the following provisions that apply to your situation may be added to the basic order:
Restraining Order - Your abuser must not come near you or abuse you again.
Vacate Order - Your abuser must move out of the shared residence.
Child support Order - Requires your abuser to provide temporary support for the children.
Custody Order - You will receive temporary custody of your children. Remember, without a court order saying otherwise, a spouse or other legally recognized guardian has every legal right to take the kids.
Restitution Order - Requires an abuser to compensate you for lost wages, medical expenses, or other costs and damages.
It's up to you to speak up and explain and/or clarify any information for the court to ensure that your protective order does protect you and your children as much as possible. It's also important to keep in mind that each state's procedure and laws vary. WomensLaw.org (http://www.womenslaw.org/laws.php) is a great resource for finding your state's laws regarding domestic violence, as well as the agencies available to offer aid and the legal remedies available to you. There are many resources available to help men, women and children leave abusers. If you and/or your children are in imminent danger go to a hospital, a church or synagogue or a police station.
On Wednesday, I'll post the warning signs of domestic violence and triggers to watch for, such as holiday parties where alcohol is served, etc. and tips for helping a friend or family member get out of a dangerous relationship. Over and out…
You might also like:
The "Unambiguous" Right to Remain Silent: Changes to the Miranda Warning; Berghuis v. Thompkins