Consider this scenario:
You and your spouse get into an argument one night. The argument escalates and the police are called. The police arrive and you are arrested. She obtains temporary restraining orders from a family law court without notice to you. You are forced to vacate the house and refrain from any contact with your spouse and children.
You read the police report and domestic violence restraining orders. You learn that your spouse claims there is a history physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and reports that you pushed her, hit her, and screamed profanities at her. You feel shocked and devasted, since it is all false.
At the first hearing on the domestic violence restraining orders, the court enters the orders pending a trial on the accusations. You are ordered to attend custody “mediation” with family court services, which will take place within 2 weeks. That “mediation” will result in recommendations to the court. The Court will likely adopt the recommendations, and thus, everything that happens in a short time will have a long-term impact on your children’s relationship with you.
You are not criminally charged, but your spouse pursues the restraining orders in the divorce. Then, her accusations expand to claims of child endangerment, abuse, and neglect of your children, all of which, you need to prepare a strategy to combat immediately.
Restraining orders and ex parte orders based on false accusations are tactical nuclear weapons in a family law case, known as the “nuclear option”.
Our family law legal system was designed to protect children against abuse but is itself abused to game the system. The court’s paramount concern is the health, safety, and welfare of the children. It takes accusations seriously. Erring on the side of caution, the court will likely enter protection orders until it is confident the children are safe. Specifically, it swiftly enters restraining orders or ex parte orders to cut the accused off from his or her home, children, animals, and property, until there is a trial. Trial will occur same day, in a week, or several months, depending upon how much time you need to gather evidence, witnesses, and prepare a defense.
In the meantime, the custodial parent will abuse his or her time with the children by lying to them, exposing them to the litigation, poisoning the children’ relationship with the accused parent, and taking all other actions to damage the bond the children have with the other parent. The children are placed in the middle of the conflict with the questioning, manipulation, and the absence of a parent. The accuser will also suddenly have a number of “witnesses” who will testify to what a horrible parent the accused is, which only serves to polarize the children’s extended families and support systems.
To make matters worse, the accuser will spread the unproven accusations to the children and parents’ immediate community, family, and friends. The distress and pressure can be overwhelming and devastating, for example, the accused can become situationally depressed, lose a job, and have no one to turn to for support as a result. The accused will simply “give up” to make the pain of the process stop.
The incredible power of false accusations has resulted in a misuse of restraining orders and ex parte orders surprisingly common. It is unfortunate because the children are ultimately the ones who suffer the most from a parent choosing the nuclear option.
What Can an Accused Parent Do?
1. Trust Your Instincts and Consult with an Experienced Family Law Attorney.
There were marital problems and a string of arguments leading up to the fight. Trust your “gut.” Immediately speak to an experienced family law attorney to help you come up with a plan to protect yourself before any accusations are made in court. This way you will be able to quickly respond as problems arise between you and your spouse, and you can make the right decisions.
Those who have been accused should immediately contact an attorney experienced in family law. Time is of the essence in these cases because your relationship with your children is at risk.
If you are an accused father, although an accused father has done nothing wrong, he is often treated like an offender in court when there is no basis for the accusations. There is implicit bias in the legal system that children will be fine without a father, but not without a mother. These men are great fathers who see their relationship with their children, rights, and reputation, lost before they have even had a trial to fully defend themselves.
2. Find the courage to speak up and fight for your relationship with your children.
I cannot tell you how many times fathers have come to us after they have completely relinquished their relationships with their children. They want to reverse the harm that has been done by asking for more time with their children after years have gone by. By that time, the children may not want to see the non-custodial parent. The parent had understandable reasons for this delay, such as, taking the path of least resistance with the mother, believing that the children were better off living with mom so not to disrupt school, or simply because they lost hope at the time out of fear of implicit bias against fathers in the judicial system.
Your children need you, not just as a wallet, but as a parent who is active in their lives. Do not delay. Do not let yourself become disenfranchised from your children. There are numerous studies about the emotional and psychological harm of high conflict custody proceedings, and unequal parenting plans, on children and families. Find the strength to realize the value you bring to them, and fight for them from the beginning, not when it is too late to repair the damage.
3. Be the Adult in the Room by Staying Above the Fray.
What these cases often devolve into is each parent making false or attenuated accusations against the other to deflect from their own wrongdoing. This puts the focus on the parents conflict rather than the best interests of the children. Rise above the court room soap opera, and take a child-centered approach to the case. Judges appreciate reasonable parents who put the needs of children above the parental conflict.