The Worst Day for a Family Lawyer, Addressing Domestic Violence
By Bob Derber and Judge Paul Marigonda
At times, being a Family Law attorney can really suck. Today is one of those days.
What do you do when a parent threatens the health and safety of their child? Where does the other parent turn for help?
The challenge can be drug or alcohol addiction, physical violence, sexual abuse, or neglect. The child can be 4 or 14. The result is often not obvious but is always devastating. The mental and emotional impact of abuse on a child can last a lifetime. And yet to the child, the offending parent is still ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’ They don’t process it well; they often deeply love the one that hurts them and view the situation as their ‘fault’.
Family Law attorneys have several tools to address these circumstances. They can help process a report with Child Protective Services. They might support the victim in calling 911. Or they might ask the Family Court to issue an emergency order to separate the offending parent from the family.
California’s Domestic Violence Protection Act, or DVPA, gives our judges the ability to immediately order an abusive parent (or another family member) to stay away from a child or the home, school or workplace. The judge can order a parent to have no communication with the child. The order is called a restraining order, or ‘RO’.
A DVPA Request can be filed at 10 a.m. in the morning and the order can issue by 2 p.m. that afternoon. The ruling is based solely on the Request and in most instances, the person being restrained does not even know the Request was filed. If the judge orders the restraint, a copy is registered with law enforcement and served by a Sheriff on the person restrained. The restrained person may have just a few minutes to gather his or her things from the home and leave. A hearing is set within a few weeks to hear both sides of the matter.
This is radical surgery for emergency matters. Our judges are careful to consider the request and appreciate the consequences of their order. They know the long-term effect when a Sheriff shows up to the home and a parent is ordered to move! Family dynamics are impacted for years to come.
Today I filed for such an order and our Court granted it. I broke down, knowing the impact this will have on the family. Good Family Law attorneys think about long-term consequences. In my case, getting the order gave me no satisfaction, but when considering the immediate harm to the children involved, I had no choice in the matter.
In an abusive relationship, whether it involves a spouse or children, a DVPA restraining order is a powerful tool. Often a Family Law attorney becomes involved only after years of harmful family dynamics. The help needed to address this is far more than legal assistance.
Domestic violence victims have several support structures to help them, including the Santa Cruz Walnut Avenue Family and Women’s Center (866) 269-2559 and Monarch Services (831) 425-4030. Both programs have advocates to guide you through the process of detaching from an abuser, which can include getting a RO. It’s always a horrible experience, but so is the abuse.
The RO issued today for my client will surely bring short-term drama into my client’s family. A parent will be removed from the home and two children will need protection and counseling to weather the emotional strain.
I may need a little counseling myself.
From the Bench
We are often called upon to help families in crisis. Restraining orders are emergency tools – but are only a first step in protecting a family suffering abuse. The order is often a ‘wake-up’ call to the abuser, and a chance for the abused to address the dilemma in a protected environment. Restraining order requests are difficult for all parties concerned, including the judge. But with any request, family safety comes first.