“I just got served with a restraining order. I can’t go to my house, see my kids, or get my clothes. What do I do?”
‘Tis the season for family fights, lovers’ quarrels and the annual issuance of Domestic Violence Protective Act — Temporary Restraining Orders. Each year around this time, we begin to see more and more of these situations where one party has become angry at the other, they high-tail it down to the courthouse and fill out the paperwork for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and before you can say “Welcome to Santa Monica,” someone has been issued a court order.
By their nature, TRO’s are short, usually lasting less than three weeks, because by law, a hearing must be held within 20 days of issuance and can be obtained by any family member, romantic partners whether or not they live together, or co-parents, by showing “abuse.”
“Abuse” has an amazingly wide definition and is so large that you could fly a 787 through it. The courts define it as “sexual assault, violence resulting in injury, or acts or statements causing fear of imminent physical injury.” The courts are necessarily liberal in their definition because they want to protect people, and the philosophy is to keep the situation as calm as possible, which is done by keeping people apart.
The problem with this, that I see, is that it is very easy for anyone to stretch the truth or outright lie to get a TRO. Because the courts will issue a temporary order on just one side’s statements, it makes it easy for a party to use a TRO as leverage in a family fight. When you consider that one party could get a “kick-out order” based merely on a statement to a judge that they “saw my roommate break a glass in anger, and I was afraid they were going to attack me,” it becomes clear how easy it is to manipulate the law.
People sign declarations “under penalty of perjury” that what they are telling a judge is true. This means that the judge then must accept as fact what is in the declaration, at least for the issuance of the TRO phase. Hard as it is to believe, people will lie under oath.
This is not a gender issue, both men and women are completely capable of lying under oath, and do so with surprising regularity. It is a sad truth that people who are angry become irrational, and when in that state, they will do anything. When humans are in fear we are capable of doing the most horrific of acts against others.
That fear can lead to abuse of another type of protection order, one that is less frequently used, it is the Emergency Protective Order. When one party is being physically abused, or faking it, they can call the police. The police are the only ones who can provide this short term protection, but it must be requested by the victim. The responding officers will then speak to a judge and if the judge then finds that there is “reasonable grounds to believe that an immediate and present danger of domestic violence exists and that the order is necessary to prevent the occurrence or re-occurrence of domestic violence, he can order an EPO, which is good for five court days or seven calendar days, during which time the victim must apply for the DVPA TRO.
So who gets these orders? Usually women are seeking them against the men that I see in my office. Occasionally we see it the other way around, but for the most part, men do not feel comfortable asking for the assistance of the police or the courts. It has to do with the power dynamics of relationships and the role that men play in society. Most men will feel emasculated asking for this type of help. They think that they don’t need someone else to protect their rights. It’s that whole macho ethic of being able to take care of myself. Sadly his strength is frequently what attracted these couples to each other, and then when the relationship sours, his great strength is his biggest weakness.
Most of the men that come to me after they have been served with a TRO have had more than enough reason to seek their own TROs, but haven’t done so, as they feel that it is “not manly” and makes them appear weak.
I just don’t agree that getting help makes a man less masculine. The best athletes in the world need coaches, the president has his cabinet, and most superheroes have a partner.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.