What’s the Point? 

 “End domestic violence.” “End poverty.” “Cure Cancer.” All of these slogans are laudable, and they are grand proclamations designed to motivate us to take action and believe that we can achieve these goals.

However, is it realistic to set ourselves up for campaigns that a) have insurmountable odds of being accomplished and b) keep moving the goal post by constantly changing the definitions?

In the world of goal setting, the cardinal rule is that something definite is achievable, but the more vague or fluid the goal, the harder it is to achieve. For example, “I want to lose 10 pounds” is easier to achieve than “I want to be at my ideal weight.”

Ending poverty is a lofty ideal, but in a world where the poverty level is constantly changing, and things like iPhones are now accessible by almost everyone, what does poverty look like in America? And what would ending it look like it?

The search for the cure for cancer consumes billions of dollars and huge progress is made each year and more people survive every day, but we also find new ways to cause it every day as well.

Ending domestic violence is a goal of service providers, counselors, lawyers, judges, victim advocates, but what does it mean? When we continue to expand the definition of what qualifies as domestic abuse or violence, aren’t we continuing to grow the problem? It used to be that absent physical harm, contusions, or broken bones, there was no domestic abuse. The laws have expanded to define abuse to emotional and psychological abuse.

Today, raising your voice is grounds for a domestic violence restraining order. Calling someone a nasty name, impugning their character and/or body is grounds for a charge of emotional abuse which can lead to legal proceedings separating a parent from a child. A violation of a restraining order by sending a simple text message as non-confrontational as this “Seriously? A TRO? I can’t see my kids? This is nuts!” is grounds for a determination that someone is an abuser and that they should be denied custody of their children.

It is this expansion that has led to The Superior Court in Los Angeles County to have “During Fiscal Year 2015-2016, a total of 96,114 family law petitions…of those, 22, 229 were for domestic violence restraining orders.” This according to a letter I received from Supervising Judge Maren Nelson in response to my request for an interview. She declined to be interviewed by me, due to my status as a practicing family law attorney in an abundance of caution to avoid any semblance of preference, a completely appropriate action by her. “Additionally, 11,990 civil harassment restraining orders were filed during the same period – a number also increasing.” She continued.

All of this is happening “during a time when the Court has had to cut resources, the number of family law and restraining orders petitions has increased.” Nelson wrote. It’s not surprising that more people are seeking these orders. Family law attorneys refer to them as the “silver bullet” method of winning the house, the kids, and the cash in a divorce, as a result of the expansion of the definitions of what constitutes domestic abuse and increasing the penalties. The ease with which they are granted has made them a short form of divorce that I call, “divorce by ambush.”

So what is someone supposed to do to protect themselves? Well just as there is a push to put body cameras on police officers to record events, so too is there a push among those in custody battles to record their interactions. A man in Florida was able to record his ex-wife attacking him from behind while he was wearing a Go-Pro during the exchange of their children, this was crucial evidence that led to her arrest.

The future of domestic abuse prevention is scary. We’ve become a society that has pathologized normative human interaction, such as expressing a range of emotions and set a goal that is unreachable by stretching the definition so thin, that one could read a newspaper through it. We have created a system that is far too easily abused and manipulated with little to no thought about abuse of process protocols.

As we rushed forward to empower victims, we sped past the foundations of our society caring little for due process, or thought about the actual mechanics and long term effects upon the family.

The campaign for awareness is important and vital and will be continued, but we need to put in some controls to bring a measure of rationality and psychological realism back to a system that is currently out of balance.

By David Pisarra

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra