In his most recent Huffington Post column, Cordell & Cordell Principal Partner Joe Cordell wrote about how false allegations of abuse often target men during divorce.
To be sure, domestic violence is a serious issue. Over the past several years, awareness regarding domestic violence has skyrocketed and there are now more resources to help victims than ever.
While those are positive developments, there are still some major misconceptions concerning the topic.
For one, it’s often framed as an issue that only affects women. In reality, there are millions of men who face intimate partner violence as well and they often face barriers when seeking the help and support they need since most resources are geared towards helping women.
When it comes to false allegations, the consequences can be disastrous for the accused. Unfortunately, this is a far-too-common occurrence as up to 70 percent of cases involving allegations of abuse during custody disputes are deemed unnecessary or false.
These false allegations are also primarily lobbed against men. A 2011 Stop Abusive and Violent Environments report found that 85 percent of protective orders are entered against men and Mr. Cordell previously stated that, in his experience, of that 85 percent, 90 percent are products of tactical divorce considerations.
Here are four important things to know concerning false allegations of domestic abuse.
It takes minimal evidence to obtain a protection order
If an alleging party wants to obtain a protection order, basically all they need to do is tell the judge that it is necessary.
Since this is done ex parte, the defendant doesn’t get the chance to defend him or herself. Most judges don’t want to be on the wrong end of denying a request and having an ensuing tragedy occur, will grant the request even if the accused has no history of violence.
“Since protection orders are done on an emergency, ex-parte basis, the defendant does not get an opportunity to explain their side of the case before the order is issued,” Mr. Cordell said. “This means you can be served with a protection order without even knowing charges had been filed in the first place, which can lead to a number of consequences for weeks – or even months – before you have an opportunity to stand before the judge at a formal hearing.”
Domestic violence covers an extremely large scope. A simple claim that a person feels threatened can even be considered grounds for a temporary protection order.
The nuclear weapon of divorce
Orders of protection are often referred to as the “nuclear weapon of divorce” because of the devastating effect they can have on a case, even if the allegations are later proven false.
Once one is entered against the father, it forces him out of the home, giving the mother a major advantage when fighting for custody.
Temporary orders remain in effect until a hearing can be held, which usually takes about two weeks, giving the defendant very little time to prepare.
In many jurisdictions, the defendant is given two options at the hearing: 1. Agree to a restraining order even though there was no actual abuse. 2. Proceed to an evidentiary hearing to contest the allegations.
Because there is such a low standard of proof in a domestic abuse hearing, agreeing to a restraining order is often considered an attractive option since it at least allows the defendant to continue fighting for custody.
An order of protection also adds a number of financial hurdles for the accused to clear. Suddenly they’re faced with finding a new place to live while also trying to pay for all the other costs associated with a divorce case.
Even false allegations have a long-lasting impact
One of the more unfair aspects of false abuse allegations is the fact that it doesn’t necessarily matter if the claims are eventually proven erroneous. The stigma still follows the accused.
Even if the charges are found to be completely groundless, temporary orders can still show up on criminal background checks and can hinder future employment opportunities.
Act quickly and decisively when fighting false allegations
If faced with false allegations of abuse, it is extremely important to act quickly and decisively. The steps you take in the couple of weeks leading up to your hearing will go a long way towards getting the charges dismissed.
The first thing you need to do is contact an attorney and let them know all the pertinent details of the allegations.
You will also need to begin gathering as much evidence as possible. Texts, emails, video and audio recordings can all be presented to the court during your hearing. Try to find anything and everything that portrays you in a good light.
The day of the hearing, you will also want to make sure you present a positive image to the judge. Be professional in your responses and keep a calm, composed demeanor, regardless of whatever false claims about you.
Keeping your head in court goes a long way toward helping your credibility.