Domestic Violence:
The Use and Abuse of the System

By Staff Writer

In recent years, the issue of domestic violence has received increasing attention from the national media, the public and lawmakers. The devastating effects on families and communities caused by violence in the home is beginning to be recognized and, measures are being taken to protect its victims. At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in the use of domestic violence allegations to obtain leverage in custody and divorce battles. The dynamic of the need for protection for those who are abused and the "abuse" of the system by individuals seeking an unfair advantage presents a dilemma for the Courts, attorneys, and litigants.

What is "domestic violence"? The term is much broader than most people assume. Physical battering is just one aspect of this problem. Other less obvious but also serious forms of abuse include threats of violence, harassment, and stalking. If you are subjected to such conduct, you may well be entitled to the protections available through the Court system. If you are in fear of another party due to his or her behavior, you should determine whether that persons conduct entitles you to protection. Attorneys, the police, domestic violence hotlines, services and/or shelters are all available to provide advice on this issue.

If you are legally entitled to protection, you can obtain an Order of Protection through the local police or the Court. You do not necessarily have to chose just one avenue of relief. The question of where to seek assistance will depend on the unique facts and circumstances of your own case, and your preference. There are advantages, and disadvantages to each different avenue that you may take for protection.

If you are a victim of Domestic Violence, you should also be aware of the following hotline numbers: Domestic Violence hotline 1-800-942-6906 (24 hours) and Child Abuse hotline 1-800-342-3720. These numbers are available for your assistance, free of charge.

As many individuals have learned, it takes very little to actually file a petition alleging Domestic Violence and seeking an Order of Protection. Often, a party is granted a Temporary Order of Protection which will continue until there is a trial or some other resolution of the case. The practical reality in many cases, however, is that the other party often cannot afford to pay an attorney to take their case to trial. As a result, that party might agree that the Order of Protection against them be made permanent. In some cases, that Order of Protection might include a provision that that party must stay away from the marital residence, their spouse’s place of employment, the children’s school, and so forth. A minor violation of the Order of Protection is the violation of a Court Order and can result in arrest and incarceration.

There are litigants who are well versed in the Court system and who are willing to and do abuse the process to obtain an unfair advantage in a custody battle or a divorce proceeding. Allegations of abuse are often easy to make and very difficult to disprove. In cases of serious physical abuse, there is often hard physical evidence of the abuse. That evidence can include medical reports, photographs of bruising, corroborating evidence, and so forth. In many other cases, the evidence is "he said, she said". When the allegations include claims of abuse against young children who cannot speak for themselves, or who may have been coached in what to say, the dilemma presented to the Court, the attorneys and the litigants is even more extreme.

There is no easy resolution of the use and abuse of the Court system in Domestic Violence matters. There are many very serious cases of Domestic Violence which require prompt action on the part of the Court system and other agencies to assist victims in need. However, the system is open to abuse. That abuse can result in serious charges being lodged against innocent individuals with catastrophic results, including the termination of contact with children and the loss of property rights such as access to a home. Individuals who believe that they have been unfairly accused of abusive conduct have two choices: fight the charges or agree to an Order of Protection. Each choice involves costs and risks and should be undertaken after a very serious assessment of the potential for additional future allegations and Court proceedings, and an attorney should be consulted in such a situation.