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Restraining Orders for Abusive Grandmas?
August 10, 2005
by Carey Roberts

The women's shelter activists have devised a nuclear first-strike weapon in their jihad to stop domestic violence. Insiders call it the TRO -- the "temporary restraining order."

Here's how the ploy works. A woman who feels in the slightest way abused goes to a judge to request a restraining order (called an Order of Protection in some states). This is usually done at an "ex-parte" hearing, meaning the hearing is done in secret and the judge does not bother to invite testimony from the alleged abuser. The judge seldom demands any hard evidence to back up the woman's testimony.

Because abuse is defined broadly in most states, the woman's request is given a rubber-stamp approval.

Ten days later the woman goes back and requests that the temporary restraining order be made permanent. That decision has a devastating impact on the family: the father is permanently vacated from his house, the mother is awarded full custody of the children, and he is ordered to begin child support payments.

Obviously this Kafkaesque system is ripe for abuse. And that's exactly what Arlene Soucie of Illinois, proud grandmother of two, recently found out.

In November 2002 Mrs. Soucie's daughter-in-law decided to leave the family home, and opted to take along her nine-month-old grandson for good measure. "With the slow process of the court system, my grandson was concealed for 3 months. We missed his first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years, and his first birthday," Mrs. Soucie sadly writes.

Finally the father, who works in law enforcement, was granted formal visitation rights. That's when the nightmare began.

Somehow the mother got irate because dad and grandma wanted to see junior from time to time. And someone told her that under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, causing a woman to feel even "emotional distress" is considered a form of abuse.

"In October 2003, my son and myself were placed under an Order of Protection. We did nothing to break the law, we did not harass, stalk, intimidate, or try to annoy. Our only purpose was to pick up the child and deliver him back at the appointed time."

Apparently the mother told the judge she found dad and grandma picking up the child to be "distressing."

"The mother has learned the system and uses it to her advantage," laments the disillusioned grandmother.

The abuse of restraining orders has now become widespread.

In Massachusetts, 30,000 restraining orders are issued each year. Half of those do not involve even an allegation of physical violence.

Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association, notes that "allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage" in divorce hearings. "Everyone knows that restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply," she admits.

The June 2005 issue of the Journal of Family Violence features an analysis of all of the requests for restraining orders that came to the Massachusetts Gardner District Court in 1997. Author Steve Basile found that only 10% of requests from women were deferred or turned down. In contrast, 34% of requests from abused men were deferred or denied - a three-fold sex bias.

In Washington state, attorney Lisa Scott writes, "Originated to immediately protect victims of severe abuse, protection orders have become 'weapons of mass destruction' in family courts.Whenever a woman claims to be a victim, she is automatically believed. No proof of abuse is required."

In Colorado, Dr. Charles Corry explains how one judicial district employs a so-called Fast Track system in which "men are not allowed to consult a defense attorney before being pressured and cajoled to enter a guilty plea."

Some judges seem to delight in turning family breadwinners into homeless vagrants: "Your job is not to become concerned about all the constitutional rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order. Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his back, and tell him, 'See ya around,'" boasts judge Richard Russell of New Jersey.

Early next month lawmakers return to Washington from their August recess. One of their first orders of business will be to take up the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA is the controversial bill that fuels the ever-expanding use of restraining orders around the country.

And as they ponder their votes, let's hope our elected officials don't forget about all the grandmas and grandpas out there who are looking forward to birthday cake and ice cream with their grandkids this coming year.

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