What is Restraining Order Abuse?
The type of restraining order referred to here is the civil protection order used in cases where domestic abuse has been alleged. This court order requires one individual to refrain from contacting or being in a specific, distance-defined proximity to another.
The overall goal in the awarding of this restraining order is the prevention of the subject (the person being ordered away) from perpetrating any act of violence or damaging harassment against the holder (the person being protected.) The vehicle of prevention is the legal establishment of a mandated buffer zone of physical distance and prohibition of contact between the subject and the holder. The intended effect of that vehicle is to provide the holder with a means to prevent contact with the subject, with that prevention being achieved by legal mandate and threat of legal penalties for violation. If the order is violated by the subject, the holder has the power to enforce that mandate by calling for assistance from law enforcement.
The logic of the restraining order is based on a series of concepts; that damaging harassment or a violent attack cannot be perpetrated by the subject if he is not in contact with the holder, that in most cases legal mandate will compel where ethics and morals do not, that in many cases threat of penalties will compel where legal mandate is not enough, and in the few remaining, application of those penalties will enforce where the subject cannot be simply compelled.
By virtue of the purpose for which it is granted, a restraining order is an official accusation, made against the subject, of malicious action or intent. It is the legal statement that the court recognizes the subject as a damaging harassing nuisance, or physical threat to the holder of the order due to evidence that the subject either has previously exhibited this behavior toward the holder, or has been conclusively shown to have intent do so in the future. If there is not such a confirmed threat, there is nothing to prevent, and no point in obtaining or granting a restraining order. A restraining order is not merited when the individual named is not a threat to the person filing the request.
Restraining order abuse is the act of requesting an unmerited restraining order against an individual, and/or the misuse of that order for any sort harassment, malicious mischief against the subject, or personal gain for the holder, rather than its intended purpose of protection. For a more complete description and discussion on the topic of restraining orders, check out Talking back to restraining orders.
An individual awarded a restraining order in an alleged domestic abuse case has significant capacity to abuse the state’s protection. The holder can manipulate circumstances, fudge facts, and even outright lie to achieve the arrest of the subject. Any time the holder of the order alleges to law enforcement that the subject has violated any of the conditions of the order (including fleeting proximity at the maximum allowed distance) the police are required to arrest the subject for the alleged violation regardless of existence, level, or lack of evidence offered by the involved parties.
Abuse of the restraining order may take one or more of few different paths.
Just in Case
Obtaining an unmerited restraining order is easy for a woman. At this time, the system is designed to favor the decision to err on the side of the female, on the basis that it is better to hand out multiple unmerited temporary restraining orders and let the courts sort them out than to risk leaving one woman unprotected from her abuser. When break-ups are less than amicable, women are often encouraged by friends and family to file, “just in case,” under the assumption that all men are potential domestic abusers.
Failure of a man to comply with all of his ex’s wishes during a break-up is interpreted by her feminist friends and family as an indication that he is abusing, or intends to abuse her. Communicating or demonstrating the expectation that the estranged couple will view each other as a fellow human beings with equal rights and equal responsibilities and treat each other with any level of fairness and consideration will be viewed as failure to comply.
Upon ending a relationship, the restraining order abuser will be encouraged to file a request for a restraining order against her ex. When she does this, an “emergency” temporary restraining order will be put into place pending the hearing to determine the validity of the request. The holder does not have to offer any credible evidence at this time. All she has to do is state reasons why she feels harassed or threatened, the veracity and/or validity of which will rarely be questioned. She may do this on her own, but in many instances this is done with the assistance of a domestic violence advocate.
Having an advocate is an advantage, as it lends credibility to the request regardless of any other evidence. Even claims that would have been questioned in the absence of an advocate will be accepted if an advocate is present. The clerk of courts will assume that the woman is an abuse victim, because she is making use of abuse victim’s services.
Once the temporary order has been granted, the status of the subject in the eyes of the legal system and the view of law enforcement is changed from “some guy we never heard of” to “perpetrator.” He is guilty of abuse until such time as his name is completely cleared, and even then if he is accused again, this incident will still be seen as evidence of a pattern of behavior.
Once a restraining order is in place, the holder can have the subject arrested at any time, regardless of evidence, by calling law enforcement and alleging any type of contact. The holder does not have to provide any evidence of the subject’s guilt. In some jurisdictions, it does not even matter if the subject can prove his innocence. Due to the legal environment created by the activity of women-centered domestic abuse shelters and feminist organizations, the initial outcome of this type of complaint is largely predetermined.
The actions of law enforcement with respect to alleged domestic violence are dictated not by an officer’s assessment of the situation, but by federal, state, and local law, and precinct policy. They often have little leeway, if any, to make a judgement call as to whether the complaint is genuine or false. Police in some areas must even arrest an accused violator when there is physical, demonstrative proof that the alleged victim’s account is impossible, such as an irrefutable alibi involving great distance, or a physical condition that precludes the occurrence of the alleged activity. The holder of a restraining order can make an transparently false allegation, and the subject will still be arrested.
Methods of handling domestic complaints vary. Some districts follow full arrest procedures, with rights read and lawyers called, whenever there is a complaint. Others state that they are only “taking the accused in for questioning.” This allows officers who have been led to suspect domestic abuse to hold the accused for several hours without an attorney, try to get a confession through intimidation, and fail to read him his rights. Regardless, officers will take to accused in to be “processed.” He can look forward to being at the police station for several hours, and may only be released after posting bail, even if he was not arrested, and even if he can conclusively prove his innocence during questioning.
House of Cards
The order holder will now use the false allegation as evidence in the hearing to determine the validity of the restraining order. The allegation of violation will be presented as proved by virtue of its own existence; because she said he did it, he’s guilty. The logic presented for using that allegation as evidence in favor of the need for a restraining order will be that the holder’s claim that subject has all ready violated the order, “proves” the necessity of having it. Even when the accuser has no evidence at all to back up her allegations, if the accused is unable to irrefutably prove his innocence of either the allegations on which the order is based, or the allegation of having violated it, a judge will deem the order valid.
Later, when the allegation of violation is tried, the holder will use the judgement in favor of granting the restraining order as evidence that the accused has a malicious or violent pattern of behavior, which will be offered in support of her claim that the order was violated. She will play damsel in distress for the court, with requests made for concessions limiting the defense’s ability to counter her arguments, all due to her alleged fear of the accused. The accused will be presumed guilty until proven innocent. In the absence of evidence outside the allegations, the hearing will result in a conviction. A concrete, irrefutable alibi or other indisputable proof that the violation did not happen is necessary to assure that the hearing will not result in a wrongful conviction.
An abuser not satisfied with, or afraid to be caught making, an unsupported false allegation, will attempt to manufacture evidence to support her claim. This may be done in one of three basic ways.
The Accidental Terrorist
This is when the holder of a restraining order stretches interpretation of its stipulations to include her right to never experience even chance, fleeting, or peripheral contact with the subject, and files a violation complaint over circumstances which were not a result of actions taken by the subject, or neglect on his part. Examples would be her experience of spotting him in a public place where he is not legally barred from going, of being in the presence of someone who has him on speaker phone, her awareness of calls made to the subject’s phone by their children from her home, or her exposure to material from his conversations with a third party online due to the design and function of a site they are both using, such as social sites and message boards.
The way restraining orders are intended to work, if the subject finds himself unpredictably and unintentionally present in the same public or common area as the holder, he must leave immediately. The intent of the order is not to require the subject to become able to predict and avoid the holder’s every move, but to require him to refrain from seeking and initiating contact. In most states, by immediately leaving the area upon learning of the holder’s presence, the subject is in technical compliance with the order.
However, due to the legal and social environment created by domestic abuse prevention advocates and feminists, if a violation complaint is filed, law enforcement will make an arrest, not an interpretation or assessment. Worse, in some states, even unpredictable, accidental and unavoidable contact can be ruled by a judge to be a violation. The subject of a restraining order can be convicted of violating it even if he did not actively contact the holder.
The accidental terrorist method can be a sign of either intentional restraining order abuse, peripheral restraining order abuse (influenced by others with an agenda or bias), or simple, basic paranoia on the part of the holder. To the subject, it does not matter which is the case. The result is the same, penalizing him for the crime of continuing to exist after the termination of a relationship with a woman.
The Trapdoor Spider
The holder of a restraining order can falsely create a condition of violation by placing herself within the subject’s known or mandated travel pattern (locations like his workplace, where he goes to school, or near a facility he has been required by the court to visit) so that the subject will be unwittingly tricked into an approach she can document. Just as a trapdoor spider hides until its prey is nearby and then pounces, the holder can await the unwitting approach of the order’s subject and then spring her trap by documenting his proximity and having him arrested for being there, even though he did not actively seek her out. A set-up violation like that can take place even in the subject’s previously existing regular pattern of movement, even with proof that the holder of the order had no reason to be there and the subject had no reason to expect her… even with evidence that she went out of her way to initiate contact. Again, in some states, even if the location is a place where the subject is required to be and the holder is not, it’s still considered a violation.
Trapper, the Unfriendly Ghost
In some areas, the holder of a restraining order can control the subject’s freedom of movement, or even get him arrested, by approaching him. By initiating proximity herself, she can force him out of an open area on the basis that his remaining there would constitute a violation. She can also or trap him in an enclosed space on the basis that going past her in order to get out would be a violation. In some states, even contact known to be initiated by the holder instead of the subject is considered a violation of the order by the subject. In those areas, the holder can blatantly and openly approach the subject, then have him arrested for violating the proximity terms of the order.
Who’s Stalking Now
Along the lines of Mantrapment, this method of abuse involves an individual intent on using a restraining order to control the subject. An abuser with a restraining order can, in some communities, so severely restrict the subject’s ability to go move outside of his own residence that he is left with little or no freedom. All she has to do is frequent locations that are part of his regular routine.
By establishing a repeated, frequent, but unpredictable presence at a location, the holder of a restraining order effectively turns the place into a “no-go zone” for the subject, because he knows that at any time, without warning, she might be there. If she sees him there, she can have him arrested and prosecuted for violating the order. By doing this with multiple locations, a controlling restraining order abuser can effectively consign the subject to anything from having to use complicated, inconvenient travel routes in order to go about his daily life (travel to and from work, obtain basic necessities like groceries and toiletries, do his banking, and pay his bills, seek medical care) to effective house arrest.
This is a greater possibility in smaller communities where there may very few each of any given type of business the subject may want or need to patronize, or organizations whose meetings he may want to attend. It can also be an increased likelihood if the subject has limited or no transportation, and is therefore restricted to travel within walking distance from his home, or in a predetermined pattern (like a bus route.) However, even when he does have access to a greater number and variety of locations, a highly motivated or vindictive Unfriendly Ghost can, by keeping track of the subject’s movements and choosing to frequent his regular haunts, create a situation wherein it is not legally safe for him to leave his home.
A restraining order abuser who is a vexatious litigant will use an influx of multiple false allegations and other legal maneuvers to harass her ex, and to manipulate the family court system to her advantage.
The method is simple, easy to use, and extremely hard to defend against.
It begins right after obtaining the temporary restraining order. Once the order has been granted, the holder will wait until she knows the subject has been served, and then file a false or contrived complaint of an alleged violation. The false complaint can be anything from simple, benign contact such as a phone call or violating the edge of the prohibited distance limit, to a claims of rape or other form of assault. The contrived complaint can range from falling into the Mantrapment categories to Unfriendly Ghost behavior wherein the complaint filed is about contact which resulted from a direct, deliberate approach or other blatant stalking behavior on the part of the restraining order holder rather than anything the subject did.
Once there is an allegation of violation, the vexatious litigant will begin filing motions, starting with a motion to delay the hearing to determine the validity of the restraining order.
This is because if the restraining order request is struck down, any violation charges not involving physical assault will be dropped. However, if the alleged violation goes to trial first and a conviction is won, even if the restraining order request is later struck down, the conviction will stick.
In the case of allegations of assault, the vexatious litigant will, as described under the House of Cards heading, want to use her initial request for the restraining order and the court’s choice to grant the temporary order as “evidence” of the accused’s alleged violent nature. Yes, she’s basically saying “See, because I said I’m scared of him, that proves he hit me!” Yes, many courts will buy that because of the convoluted way it’s presented, and because of the legal and political environment created by feminist groups, in which the woman must always be unconditionally believed if the listener does not want to be accused of blaming the victim. Then, as further described, the vexatious litigant will use the conviction to justify having the restraining order when the hearing for that comes up.
If the first attempt at this fails, the unmerited restraining order/false allegation one-two punch may be repeated by a vexatious litigant several times, until either an order from the court stops her, or she succeeds in jailing her victim. Each time the accused is able to defeat false allegations in court, the vexatious litigant will come back with more. Each time she files new allegations, the vexatious litigant will cite previous allegations as evidence that the accused has exhibited an alleged pattern of behavior, the impression of which is supposed to bias the court in favor of a guilty verdict this time. Yes, that means she will be arguing “Your honor, the proof that I’m telling the truth this time is that I’ve made lots of false allegations like this before.” Yes, judges do fall for that. This is the method of choice for domestic abuse advocate organizations to win convictions for their clients when there is no other basis for allegations of abuse. They simply inundate the court with a stream of repeated allegations until they reach a point where the accused is convicted simply on the basis that an individual accused that many times must have done something.
During this process, the vexatious litigant will violate laws with impunity, and she will will not limit her legal harassment to false allegations. In addition to filing false police reports, she will perjure herself and may suborn perjury from her witnesses. She will stalk her victim online and in person, seeking information that she can use to make her false allegations appear credible. She will slander her victim verbally and in many cases online. She will file frivolous civil suits gainst her victim for damages related to her allegations of abuse, including those cases which have all ready ended in acquittal. This will force the victim to defend himself all over again, as the “not guilty” verdict will not be considered sufficient to prove that he didn’t commit the alleged abuse for which she is suing him.
She will file motions to control everything her victim might do, from putting a hold on his finances to legally restraining him from moving or selling his possessions, even if she was never married to him, and in some areas, even if she has never cohabitated with him. She may demand information that does not exist, such as records or documentation she claims to have seen of incidents that never happened or circumstances that don’t exist.
An example would be a request for nonexistent photographs or video of an alleged incident, which cannot be produced because the incident did not occur and therefore could not have been photographed or videotaped. Another example would be demands for drug-rehab or mental health treatment records from a victim who has never had drug rehab or mental health treatment.
The demand serves the purpose of simultaneously creating the false impression that the victim is being uncooperative with the court, and that he has a shady history (previous incidents, drug use or mental illness). After such demands have been made, no amount of denial on the victim’s part is sufficient to erase the impression that he is either a habitual offender, an addict, or mentally unstable.
Following those demands, the vexatious litigant may try to use the victim’s inability to produce the non-existent information as a basis upon which to file a complaint against him for obstruction of justice, or to persuade a judge to find him in contempt of court on the basis that the inaction is a refusal to comply, rather than evidence that the information demanded does not exist.
In the course of attempting to have her victim jailed, the vexatious litigant will expand her harassing behavior well beyond her victim. She will attempt to intimidate and harass his witnesses and anyone else she perceives as supporting him. She will demand information to which she has no legal right, sometimes including information which is legally protected in order to prevent witness intimidation, such as witnesses’ addresses and other personal information. She may file frivolous legal complaints or civil suit against his witnesses. She may publicly slander and harass his witnesses. She may physically assault his witnesses. She may attack his lawyer’s standing by filing false complaints with the Bar association.
In many cases, the victim and his witnesses will have no legal recourse, and the vexatious litigant will never be prosecuted for breaking the law. Any actions taken to hold the vexatious litigant responsible for her behavior will be treated by her advocates as an attack on the system put into place to protect women from domestic abuse.
Family court judges and prosecuting attorneys are elected politicians. They cannot afford to be painted as victim blamers or accused of condoning domestic abuse against women. They cannot afford to create the chance that their having supported an accused domestic abuser, even one who has been acquitted, will be brought to the public’s attention during an election year. Even though they can support their actions with the facts of the case, there is no chance of a positive public perception of the insinuations and allegations their opponents will make. They know that domestic abuse is such a hot-button issue that it won’t matter if they can prove that they were right. Just being accused will hurt their chances for re-election. In effect, the vexatious litigant is public-image kryptonite to these elected officials, to be avoided at all costs, including having to live with the knowledge that they have thrown the real victim under the bus to protect themselves. Unless legal action forces them to attend to the vexatious litigant’s actions, her violations of the law will be ignored.
Why Would Anyone Do this? What’s In It for Her?
In many states, the subject of a restraining order can be ordered to pay the expenses for things deemed necessary to facilitate any actions the holder claims to have to take in order to avoid him. This can be anything from the legal costs related to obtaining the order to rent and childcare costs if the holder chooses to claim them as needs related to avoidance. Some states also require convicted domestic abusers to pay compensation to victims for losses related to the alleged abuse, including lost wages and (hard to prove or contest) loss of personal property.
In a marital dispute or a dispute between cohabitants, some states’ laws allow a judge to order the subject of a restraining order out of his home, even if his name is on the deed or lease, and the holder’s name is not. Many state laws are even more broad, allowing the order of property transfer. This includes residential property, vehicles, bank accounts, and even “personal effects.” Some states even allow judges to list a set of things the subject can take with him upon restraining-order eviction from his home, barring him from removing anything not on that list, even if it was his prior to the relationship.
Other financial gain
Some states’ laws contain vague and open-ended language like “compensation for losses,” “other relief deemed necessary” and “including, but not limited to,” (followed by a list) permitting judges to order the subject of a restraining order to pay compensation to the holder for a variety of reasons, or for reasons of the judge’s own determination. One state allows financial compensation for pain and suffering.
Legal leverage in Custody battles
In many states, when considering the best interests of the child, courts are required to consider domestic violence allegations. A restraining order provides the holder with the ability to take to family court the argument that the subject is so dangerous she had to request legal protection from him, and that therefore, his contact with any children the couple may have should also be limited. Often, the court will not consider whether the order was actually merited when deciding whether it can be used as evidence. If domestic abuse allegations have been made against the a the father in a custody battle, that will be considered evidence against him even if he has not been convicted.
If the holder has managed to get a conviction, that can be further used as evidence in favor of limiting the father’s parental contact with the children. He may even be in jail, in which case he will have no custodial rights. He’ll have to request visitation, and she’ll be able to argue that because of his incarceration, visiting him will be psychologically damaging to the children.
Some states have statutes barring the court from granting either sole or joint custody to individuals with a domestic violence conviction. That means that even after all other punitive measures are over (jail, fines, reparations, probation,) a father with a domestic conviction, whether rightful or false, can never have even partial custody of any of his children. He cannot make any legal decisions regarding them. He gets no legal input into their medical care, schooling, or any other aspect of life. He is permanently sidelined.
A few states have statutes which bar the court from granting either sole or joint custody to individuals subject to even an allegation of domestic violence. These statues place the burden of proof on the accused. A father can be sidelined as a parent even if he has done nothing wrong, and can be kept that way until he is able to offer the court irrefutable proof of his innocence. There is no area in which the mother is subject to equal scrutiny.
It can be extremely satisfying for an angry divorcee or ex-partner to see her ex arrested, to know that she’s gained a measure of control over his life, and to feel that she can have him imprisoned at any time. There is a sense of power in that.
In addition, to a woman with a possessive or abusive nature, the legal system can be a powerful tool for use in the effort to control and oppress any man who dares to move on in his life without her following the dissolution of a relationship. She can make it anywhere from difficult to impossible for him to live in peace, much less start and maintain a functional relationship with another woman.
The ability to manipulate and abuse the family court system provides vindictive women with the ability to create an invisible prison of limits and threats in which to hold an ex indefinitely, regardless of her own choice to move on with her life. She can punish him as little or as much as she wants using the methods described above. She can make sure that although she has chosen to not view him as a partner, she can continue to view him as a possession to be treated however she chooses, because nobody is going to stop her. She can take socially sanctioned vengeance for any real, or even just perceived, failure or betrayal on his part.
It’s also much more socially accepted than digging her key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive.
Relief from Condition of Conflict with Social Pressures
Upon the dissolution of a relationship, other women may step in and advise the newly separated girlfriend or wife that circumstances and behaviors in the relationship she just left were worse than they actually were. If the newly estranged woman allows them, her feminist friends and family will attempt to convince her that she is an abuse survivor.
They will redefine as much as they can of her memories to fit the terms outlined in standard descriptions of patterns of domestic abuse. They will cite her ex’s failure to change everything about himself to become more compatible with her as emotional neglect. They’ll cite refusal to submit during arguments as an attempt to dominate and control her. The same thing will be said of any advice he’s ever given. If he’s ever raised his voice during an argument, regardless of whether or not she also did, she’ll be told that his raised voice was an act of aggression.
They will go over the newly estranged couple’s sex life with a fine-tooth comb looking for anything they can call rape. If sex ever followed an argument, they will jump on that as being forced through intimidation. If sex ever followed drinking, they’ll label that “drunk rape.” If her sexual appetite was lower than his, and he compensated with efforts to seduce her, that will be called “pressuring her for sex.” If he supplemented with visual stimulation and self-gratification to avoid pressuring her, they’ll call him a porn addict. If his sexual appetite was lower than hers, he’ll be accused of withholding sex to batter her self-image.
In some social circles, she will be treated as a victim despite her own protests that she is not one, pressured to seek assistance even though she is not endangered, and presented with a heavy dose of persuasive speech aimed at convincing her that she needs protection from her ex. She’ll be told she should get a restraining order “just in case” or “to facilitate the process” (read: gain the benefits mentioned above.)
In extreme cases, even after she clearly states that she was not abused, the effort to “protect” her will continue. She’ll be handled by the organization her friends or family put her in contact with as if she suffers from “battered woman’s syndrome.” There may even be an “intervention” along the same lines as those used to confront addicts. She’ll be encouraged to accept counseling services from an abuse counselor, who may step up the effort to convince her that she was abused. In worst case scenarios, she’ll develop false “suppressed” memories of abuse. If she does not extract herself from the influence of those around her with an agenda, she’ll end up doing exactly what they tell her to.
For more information on why the legal system is abused by women in family court, see saveservices.org’s Special Report on Incentives to Make False Allegations of Domestic Violence.
What if I just stay away? What Other Harm is Can a Restraining Order Do to Me?
Once the court has upheld a restraining order, the subject is barred from purchasing or possessing firearms. If he all ready owns firearms, he may be required to surrender them or store them under specific, legally directed methods. The law contains no provision to afford the accused any compensation for the seizure or control of his personal property.
This also means the subject cannot be licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and cannot work in any profession which requires him to carry a firearm.
In addition, a restraining order can show up in background checks, affecting the subject’s security clearance, and further affecting his job prospects. This can also affect his ability to volunteer as a coach or youth mentor. In some cases and some areas, it can even affect his ability to obtain credit services.
Both of these conditions will outlast restraining orders with time limits. A restraining order may be in effect for only a few years, but it will show up on some background checks forever, and it will permanently strip you of your right to possess or own firearms.
Further, some jurisdictions consider visiting locations where firearms are kept to be in violation as well. If your ex can get proof and the court system where you live is so inclined, you could be jailed for visiting friends and family who keep guns in their homes, attending gun shows, or traveling with a companion who is armed. This could occur even if you are unaware of the presence of guns in your proximity, as can happen with visiting friends and family.
A Temporary Restraining Order Has Been Filed Against Me. What Should I Do?
First, and most importantly, seek legal council. Do not attempt to handle this without a lawyer. The court system is the most backward and convoluted thing short of the tax system, and you can not navigate it by yourself. Chances are, your opponent isn’t, either. If she is claiming abuse, she’ll have an army of support. Friends and family will swoop in to help rescue the damsel in distress. She will have the support of courtroom bias from the beginning, but she also has access to domestic violence victim’s services, crime victim’s services, and possibly free legal services, depending on her income level. These people will trample you if you attempt to stand up to them without someone to advise you who is an expert in your state’s laws, and familiar with your local court system. You absolutely need an attorney.
Second, avoid all contact with the holder. Even accidental contact can constitute a violation. This means that in addition to avoiding places where you have reason to believe she may be, you need to eliminate the chances of any other accidental contact.
Delete her email address from all of your accounts’ address books.
Disconnect from her on every social site on which you are a member. If possible, block her account from seeing your posts, as you can on Facebook. Also, disconnect from and (if possible) block any of her family members with whom you have been connected. Disconnect with any friends of hers with whom you are not close. This includes mutual acquaintances you like, but don’t hang out with. This also includes any mutual friends you don’t really trust to not help her spy on you or entrap you.
Take her number and the numbers of her family members out of your cell phone contact list, and off of your land line’s autodialer.
Use voice mail or an answering machine to screen your calls. In some states, if she calls, and you converse with her after answering your phone, you can be considered in violation. If she pocket dials you and you answer your phone even that can be considered a violation. If she does call you, make a note of the date and time she called, and save any message she leaves as evidence that after filing a restraining order, she has attempted to contact you.
Keep your mouth (publicly) shut about the situation. Do seek assistance from trusted individuals who can help you, but keep discussion to the bare facts: What you are accused of, what your concerns are, and how they can assist you in addressing those concerns and preventing wrongful conviction.
Do not vent your hurt and frustration to other friends, family, or anyone else who might inadvertently “leak” your words back to your ex. If you have to talk to someone about this, make it a current significant other, a trusted family member, or a professional counselor. Request that your trusted confidants keep everything you discuss with them about the order confidential, and make sure you limit discussion to only those people who you know will honor that request. Anything you say to others about anything related to her, the restraining order, or its effects on your life can be taken as slander or harassing behavior.
Also, if you have children, and they live with her, you cannot call them or send them anything in the mail, or go to their school or residence to visit them or pick them up for visitation. You cannot contact them in any way which may inadvertently lead to you making contact with her. If you have a visitation schedule, make arrangements with the court to have a trusted friend or family member bring the kids to you. And yes, she might refuse to send the kids with your representative, especially if you don’t have one listed in the custody agreement. You might miss a month of visitation with your kids, but it’s better than how much you will miss if she uses your commitment to them as a way to put you in jail.
This is the hard part: If your children call you while the temporary order is in effect, do not answer the phone, and do not call them back, even if it is stated in the message that your ex said it’s all right. Do make a note of the date and time of the call(s), and save any messages left. A vexatious litigant attempting to entrap you will use your kids to get to you. If she’s really psychotic and/or has no conscience, she will mess with their minds to get to you. If you let it happen, that will hurt them more than any time lost during the ordeal.
Do not trust contact from any member of her family, even if you were friends prior to the restraining order. If this is a case of restraining order abuse, they might be trying to entrap you into unintentional contact or the appearance of contact with your ex. If you call your ex’s family member’s phone or visit his or her residence, the ex can later claim to have been there, and have you arrested, even if there was no interaction and no contact.
Your ex is lava. Anywhere she might be is lava. People she hangs out with are lava. Activities she’s involved in are lava. Social sites she uses are lava.
Don’t touch the lava, or you will get burned.
Third, disarm, totally and completely. In addition to complying with laws regarding firearms, remove all things in your home which are primarily used as weapons, even if they are decorative and nonfunctional. If you have weapons which are special family heirlooms (such as someone’s ceremonial military sword or bayonet if not kept with a gun) or religious (such as a wiccan athame) or collector’s items, enlist a trusted friend or family member to take temporary custody of them for you.The only blades in your house should be those needed for cooking. Do not even keep a pocket knife or a letter opener. Make a list of what you are asking your trustee to keep for you, and both of you sign it. If possible, have it notarized. This will be your evidence that you are not in possession of these items, even though you are still the owner.
Remove anything from your person and your car that can be considered a weapon. This includes even the smallest pocket knife, most benign sports equipment (some things can be considered bludgeoning weapons,) any tools not immediately needed, basically anything you think you could be accused of intending to use as a stabbing, slashing, or bludgeoning weapon. If you have a toolshed, put a padlock on it. Entrust the key to the same person to whom you would entrust any weapons you have given up for the duration of this ordeal.
If you have a little pocket knife or bottle opener on your keychain, take it off. If you’re a student, go through your backpack or bookbag and do the same thing. Take out any unnecessary sharp objects, including rulers, protractors, and the like (if you are not using them for a class.) If you have to carry anything sharp besides writing utensils for school (ruler, protractor, hobby knives,) get a small box that locks, and keep it in that.
Better, ask your professor or teacher if you can leave your tools for class in the classroom until your name has been cleared. Do this not with the attitude that you are paranoid or afraid of getting “busted,” but that you genuinely want to do everything you possibly can to show the court that you are cooperating with the intent of the order. Do not name or blame the girl. Instead, categorize the restraining order as the symptom of a misunderstanding of your attitude and intentions. Be sure to mention that this is a temporary issue, which you hope to have cleared up at your hearing, after which you will resume full responsibility for your classroom tools as usual.
Finally, know that as a man on trial in the family court system, you are guilty until proven innocent. Your whole goal here is that; to prove your innocence. To that end, you need conclusive, physical documentation so that when she lies about you, you have more than just your word contradicting her story. When it comes to proving the truth in family court, there is no such thing as too much documentation. There should never be a moment in your life, from the time you’re served (or alerted that you are going to be served,) to the time you stand before the judge and argue against instating the temporary restraining order, when you can’t offer proof of where you were.
Some Methods of Documentation
Keep a Journal
This is one anyone can do. Get a cheap, thick notebook, and use it like a logbook. Keep accurate notes in ink detailing your daily activities by the hour. Make sure you are noting all of the following under each day’s date:
The time you wake up. Witnesses to your whereabouts. Your activities.
The time you leave home. Your destination, route, and traveling time. Witnesses, if any.
TIP: Whenever you can, have witnesses sign and date the page in your notebook where their presence is noted. Don’t be creepy about it (asking acquaintances) but do try to get this concession from friends and family.
Time arrived at destination, activities and witnesses. Any possessions you are carrying note – listing possessions is done in case you are arrested, to assist in getting your stuff back, and help prevent you from being accused of having anything that you did not.
Repeat this cycle for the next location, and the next, until you are writing the time of your arrival at home. Whenever you can, note witnesses for each location, even if they’re not people who are part of your life (the name of the cashier who waited on you at the corner gas station, for instance, especially if that’s a frequent interaction.)
Be sure to note each night what time you go to bed.
This is another one anyone can do. Get positively remembered by the staff at the businesses you patronize. Be positive and friendly during transactions. As soon as you walk in through a door, smile, say hi, and wave a hand at the nearest employee.
Always smile and greet the people waiting on you, by name whenever you can. Make eye contact. That is vital. People are more likely to remember someone who looked them in the eye.
Exchange small talk (not about your situation – the weather, local news, current events, or favorite “g” rated jokes.)
Get rarely used currency like dollar coins and two dollar bills from a local bank, and pay with those wherever you go. If you always pay with odd currency, cashiers will start to remember you as “the two dollar guy” or “the coin guy.”
Wear bright, boldly colored shirts. Wear a silly hat, like one with animal ears, or something else that stands out. Dying your hair an obnoxious color (like magenta) is an option that will get you remembered by people, but it will make you look like a punk in court.
As much as you can, avoid going anywhere by yourself. Have a credible, reliable witness to your whereabouts so that when you are accused, there is someone who has seen where you really were and what you were really doing.
For this to work, you really must associate yourself with people who are credible and honest, because her lawyer is going to try to break them down on the stand. It is also preferable that both sexes be represented among your witnesses. Her side will attempt to discredit each sex on a different basis.
She will accuse other men of supporting you out of kinship, under the influence of an alleged “buddy code” or “good old boys network.”
She will accuse your female witnesses of being sexually involved with you, claiming that the alleged relationship gives them reason to lie for you.
Do not depend on friends you still have in common for this. For one thing, it puts pressure on the friend to take sides. For another, it can be used by her to paint you as divisive. Worse, if a friend has decided to believe or cooperate with your ex, you could be let down when you need him or her the most or even betrayed with lies. At the very least, this could cost you some friendships.
Receipts and Security Cameras
Don’t go anywhere without stopping in to a little store somewhere and buying something small and cheap. Always get a receipt.
Most places where you can shop, as well as most ATMs, will have the time and date of the transaction printed on any receipt you are given. Especially good places to visit for these are corporate owned chain stores, where there will also be security cameras. Security camera footage can be subpoenaed.
TIP – If you are accused of violating the restraining order and need to prove you were in a place that has cameras, be sure to get a subpoena for that footage as soon as possible, because some places “dump” that footage, which is digital, every 30 days.
Learn where the cameras are at the locations you frequent, so that you can be sure to turn your face toward one when you are entering, and again when you are leaving.
Save all of your receipts, organized by date. A good way to do this is to get one of those plastic, divided “envelope” wallets normally used for storing coupons. Do not keep it in your car, as some receipts are on heat transfer paper and will darken if your car gets hot in the sun.
If you don’t have a camera, get one, (preferably one that uses film) or get a few disposable ones. Look for a time/date stamp, but don’t be too disheartened if you don’t find that.
Throughout your day, stop and photograph yourself with your back to a recognizable part of each of the stops on your daily route. Hold the disposable camera at arm’s length pointed toward you, for some focus and so you don’t completely fill the photo. Disposables work best at 4 to 12 feet, so there will be some blur but it will still clearly be you in the image.
If you couldn’t get a camera with a time/date stamp, then whenever you can, get a clock in the picture to show what time you were at that location.
If accused of being in a different place than you were at any given time, you’ll have photographic proof of your actual location.
If you have an internet compatible phone, use that to your advantage. Set up an anonymous Facebook account. Register it for foursquare or some other “check-in” app. Use your phone to update your whereabouts throughout the day. Use your phone’s camera as well, and upload a photo of yourself at each location to that Facebook account. Make a habit of doing this everywhere you go.
If you have a blackberry, download LittleBrother and set it up to automatically update… but make sure you spend more then two minutes at each location so that the app has time to check you in and send emails. Set up an account just for tracking yourself. Don’t do anything else with that account.
Follow your attorney’s instructions. When in doubt, call your attorney and ask. Do not assume anything. This is an area that can be more complicated than you think.
When you go to court, take a few people with you for support, even if they are not witnesses. This small group should include someone older than you, and someone female. Having people there to see what is happening will help to keep the elected judge honest. It shows him or her that you are not alone, and that what goes on in the courtroom will be seen and remembered by people who know you. It’s harder to do anything bad in front of witnesses who might go out and talk about it later. However, make sure your supporters know to not be disruptive or disrespectful. No sound should come from them once court is in session, and nothing loud enough to be clearly heard two rows over prior to that. Your folks should be dressed like they would if they were going to an acquaintance’s church wedding.
Do not dramatically change your appearance unless your attorney tells you that you should, but do show for court looking tidy, clean, and organized, not sloppy, not with ‘five o’clock shadow’ or a scraggly beard and mustache, or wrinkled clothing. If you have facial piercings, remove the ones that are easily taken out and put back. Do not wear body jewelry that shows through your clothes.
Dress like you’re going for the most important job interview of your life, because you are. You’re interviewing for the position of being able to get on with your life. If you don’t get hired for that, you’re going to be stuck in the position of I-could-be-arrested-at-any-time.
In court, be respectful, cooperative, dignified, and humble.
Do not look at your ex. Do not even turn your face or body in the direction of that side of the courtroom. Fold your hands, set them in front of you, and keep your eyes on them, except when the judge speaks to you. Then, look at the judge. When you are not interacting with the judge, look back at your hands. No matter what sounds you hear coming from your ex’s direction, no matter how animated or loud she becomes, keep your eyes on your hands, or on the judge.
Speak only when it is required of you. Your attorney is there for a purpose. Let him or her do that job. If you have a concern during another witness’s testimony, bring it up quietly with your attorney, so that he or she can figure out the best way to address the issue.
When asked questions by the judge, answer in the most concise terms possible. Present only facts. Do not gesture. Do not offer opinion. Do not give the judge any reason to think you are being disrespectful.
Especially, do not offer opinion on anything your ex, the court, or “the system” has done to you.
Do not expand on your answers. Do not ramble on with extra information. Anything you say can and will be held against you.
Do not brown-nose, but be sincere, respectful, and honest.
Do not lie, even about things you are afraid will make you look bad if you tell the truth. If you are caught in even one single lie, it will destroy your case. Your credibility will be wrecked. Your journal will be worthless. Even the credibility of your witnesses will be compromised by association.
If you are invited to ask questions and have something to ask, ask respectfully in a non-accusatory manner. Do not blame the judge, the court, or the system for anything.
On the stand, when questioned by your ex’s attorney, remain respectful, and remain calm, and sit still. Keep your hands folded in your lap. Continue to not look at your ex. Keep your eyes on the person talking to you, unless he or she deliberately stands close to your ex. Then, look at your attorney. If nothing else, that will help reassure you that you aren’t up there unsupported.
The opposing attorney will attempt to bait your temper. If you raise your voice, increase your hand motions, or display frustration, you have provided the other side with evidence that you are aggressive, even if you are doing so in response to aggression that has been directed at you.
Pause for a breath before you answer any question you are asked. That way, if the question is inappropriate, your attorney has an opening to object. Also, it gives you a moment to collect yourself if the wording of the question is inflammatory or hurtful.
Whether you win or lose this case, keep your dignity. Don’t celebrate or go off. Either one will look bad to the court, and can be used against you if there are subsequent legal actions.
Don’t assume things are over if you win. In case you are dealing with a vexatious litigant, continue to live defensively as if the order is still in effect, at least long enough to establish that your ex isn’t going to do this again. Being turned down for a restraining order does not mean she can’t go right back to the clerk and request another one. I have seen at least one woman do this 5 times before civil action was taken to stop her by the ex she was abusing.
At the very least, don’t relax your standard of keeping evidence of your activities for several months. Keep your journal, keep your receipts, and continue to take people with you when you go places. You may not need any of those precautions, but it’s better to have them in place and not need them, than it is to need them and not have them. In the meantime, be sure you and your attorney follow through the process of ensuring that the legal record is officially cleared/changed to reflect that you are not subject to a restraining order, as would be reflected in background checks for various purposes.
Don’t assume things are over if you lose, either. If you feel that you have been wrongfully subjected to a restraining order, talk to your attorney about filing an appeal. Continue to behave the same as you did when the original order was in effect, and document any harassment of you, or of your friends and family by the holder, including attempts to approach, phone calls, or any other contact initiated by the holder of the order. Be prepared for a hard fight, but do not give up if you are in the right. The more people roll over for this, the more people will think they can get away with it.
Dealing with a vexatious litigant
Your ex filed a restraining order. You hired an attorney, kept your records, toed the line, and protected your reputation. During the 30 days in which the temporary order was in effect, she falsely claimed you violated it. When the judge denied the restraining order, the violation case was dropped.
It should have been over. You proved you hadn’t done what she said you did. You proved you weren’t an abuser. She lied, end of story. The abuse advocates can go focus on an actual victim. You can get back to your life, and she can stay out of it.
Except, maybe not. Maybe she has the advocates convinced. Maybe she’s more determined than that. Next thing you know, there’s another temporary restraining order, and another court date, or a plethora of frivolous claims and motions. Other false charges are filed. You face civil action involving your possessions, legal attacks on your family and friends, or even physical stalking.
Dealing with a vexatious litigant can be like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. You never expect things to get this weird. You never expect the court system to be that easy for someone to manipulate. Victims of malicious prosecution are often blindsided by the attack. How could anyone possibly be prepared for an onslaught of false allegations and frivolous complaints? You can’t. If you were, you’d be the most paranoid guy in the world.
So now what do you do? Now that you know someone is using the legal system to harass you, how do you defend yourself?
First, if you didn’t all ready have assistance from an attorney, start looking. There is no way to defend against a vexatious litigant without an expert in the local court system and the law. You will have things thrown at you that you have never heard of, ridiculous allegations made which would never be accepted outside of an alleged domestic abuse case, and roadblocks put into your path that will boggle your mind.
You’ll be told that behavior the court is accepting from her is unacceptable from you because you’re the abuser, even after it has been conclusively proved that you are not.
Concessions which have been made for her will not be made for you, on that same basis.
As the ordeal progresses, allegations against you that have been struck down in court will be used as evidence against you in hearings on future allegations, future restraining orders, and even unrelated matters like child support and property division. She may try to claim her harassment of you as a reason why the court should alter any custody agreement you have or are negotiating, on the basis that the home environment created by the stress is disruptive to and unhealthy for the children’s development. Yes, that means she’ll be arguing that because she’s abusing you, the court should deny your parental rights in favor of her to protect the kids from feeling the fallout of the wrath she’s bringing down on your head. No, the court won’t see it that way, sometimes even when it’s pointed out… especially if it’s pointed out by a defendant representing himself.
Without an attorney to represent your interests, you will be toast.
What can I do to protect myself?
Outside of the courtroom, you need to live defensively. However you are going to fight this, damage control is your first priority. Your initial goal is to prevent your ex from obtaining a wrongful domestic abuse conviction against you.
Turn the things you did to protect yourself from vulnerability to false allegations during the time when the original temporary restraining order was in effect into your regular lifestyle. As the saying goes, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Document everything, your whereabouts and activities, your witnesses, your possessions, anything unusual that happens to you or around your home, any harassment of you by your ex, any harassment of your friends and family. Keep your whereabouts documentation journal thoroughly and punctually updated. Don’t miss even a single event.
Once you suspect that you are dealing with habitual malicious prosecution (the first or second time there’s a false allegation should be enough) you should start keeping a second, separate “experiences” journal. Unlike the whereabouts documentation journal, this one is for the impact that the harassment is having on your life. This journal is not for your defense against allegations. It will not help to prove that you are innocent of crimes against your abuser. This is your evidence in case you have to take legal action to make your abuser stop harassing you.
In this journal, record your description of your experiences, and how you feel about them. This can be as complex or simple as you want, but it should include accurate, honest details of what happened (as in papers served, arrest, court date, phone call, instances of being treated differently at work or by neighbors because of your ordeal, etc.,) who was involved, when and where it took place, and the results of the event; how others involved (family, friends, witnesses) reacted, and how you feel about the event and the responses. Included in your entries should be documentation of:
Effects on your physical and mental health, such as if you have developed stress-related health symptoms (things like nausea, dizziness, headache, excessive sweating, elevated heart rate, shaking, difficulty or rapid breathing,) if an existing medical condition has been significantly worsened by stress associated with the ordeal, or if you have suffered depression or anxiety requiring medical treatment as a result of the ordeal. (This is also where your medical documentation comes in.)
Effects on your relationships, loss of friends, loss of contact due to decreased availability, if there was parental alienation taking place, and if there was conflict in your household as a result of challenges created by your ordeal, and how that is new or different from your normal home life.
Impact to your reputation in your neighborhood, among your social groups, at work, school, and church, and in any other area of your regular life.
How the drain on your time and resources has affected your work (job performance, focus and concentration, attendance.)
Satellite effects – ways that your need for defense against malicious prosecution has affected others around you; stress, time and resource drain, any conflict or damage to reputation, interference with work.
Your emotional responses to events, even if all you can do is state simply whether you are angry, hurt, embarrassed, or afraid (and if so, what you fear.) Even if you are not normally demonstrative or communicative or even honest about your feelings, it’s very important that you are in this journal. The designation of behavior of harassment partly depends on how harassed the victim feels, even when other significant, measurable effects on his life can be cited as evidence.
Do not give your ex an opening to force escalation of the situation. Avoid going out alone. Avoid going anywhere secluded. If she comes to your residence or approaches you at work, don’t let her get near you, even if you have to lock yourself in or vacate the premises. If an approach is attempted, call emergency services and clearly state what is going on – that your ex is pursuing you against your will, that she has a restraining order against you, and that you want the attempt at forced contact halted. Do not be stoic about this. If she is being loud and/or aggressive, say so. If she is carrying a weapon, say so. If you are afraid, say so.
Do not fight back. Only run away. Being bigger and stronger might protect you against another guy, but you are essentially not allowed to defend yourself in this situation. Anything you do to prevent her actions, even though she is the aggressor, will be considered domestic abuse. Even if that were not the case, being big and strong is trumped by having firearms and other weapons to which she might have access. Don’t let social expectations and stupid catch phrases like “man up” pressure you into putting yourself at risk of being shot, stabbed, electrocuted, or sprayed with chemicals.
Get a thick, 3-ring binder, a 3-hole punch, and dividers. Keep every piece of paper even remotely related to your case in that notebook, except for the receipts you are organizing in the coupon organizer (because they are small.) When an allegation is made about a time for which a receipt contributes to your alibi, copy that receipt and place the copy with the related paperwork in your binder.
Get a ream of notebook paper for notes you need to keep related to allegations or incidents, so that you can place the notes with the correct paper. This can be anything from lists of items or your own observations and arguments to witness’s statements (try to get these signed and dated.)
If you have to seek medical attention for stress-related illness or injury due to the effects of your ex harassing you, keep evidence of that. Get statements from your doctor(s), and keep copies of all of your bills.
If there are other losses (property, job opportunities, impact on the health of family members, or personal connections) document those, as well. Keep records of every cost involved with defending against anything your ex has done, and of any witness impressions involved in that.
Get or make prints of photographic evidence related to any allegation. Put them with the paperwork for that allegation in your binder. Until any given allegation is resolved, pin all of the paperwork related to it together with a paperclip for quick and easy location and reference.
For court purposes, you might want to clip or otherwise divide all incidents you want to reference, and place a prominent, easy to read label on each one so that you can find them all quickly.
Be able to, on the fly, locate and offer any of the information related to any specific incident or allegation involved in your case. Note in your daily journal when you receive any paperwork, who brought it (or how you received it), and any other related information (such as if it took four police officers to deliver notice of a restraining order, or if threats were made or mail appears tampered with, or if items in your possession during an arrest were not recorded and returned to you by police upon your release, or if any of the arresting officers is related to your ex, etc.) Having the dates and times of incidents of note cross-referenced in your journal can help to drive home that these things happened as you are describing them, even when there are no other witnesses. Also, you never know in the beginning which behaviors and attitudes are going to become a pattern, so it is best to note everything.
Courtroom activity does not leave even extra seconds to go digging for your evidence. Judges and juries appreciate you not having to do that, and can be biased against individuals who are disorganized and time consuming. Also, if you dig for too long, it is possible that a judge will assume you are delaying instead of offering evidence, and deny you the chance to present it.
What can I do to stop this?
Legal action can be taken against a vexatious litigant, but first, you have to put up with being harassed long enough for her to establish a pattern. Maintain a holding pattern of legal and circumstantial self-defense, keeping your documentation current, plentiful, and organized.
If your ex violates the law, keep a record of that. Talk to your lawyer about your recourse related to perjury and false charges, witness tampering, and other forms of legal manipulation. If the behavior is habitual but not affecting the results (not resulting in court judgements against you,) allow the ex to repeat her offenses several times so that you can point to the pattern. Then, file whatever complaints and charges the law allows, but only where you can prove both violation and damages. For instance, it might be perjury if your ex falsely claims to have proof that you are involved in a sexual relationship with a witness, but you won’t be able to prove that you are not. Even if you could, it is not a damaging lie that the court would consider to be an obstruction of justice. It is not worth prosecuting over that. However, if your ex states that you were at location A at Time o’clock on Day-Month-Year, and you can conclusively prove that you were actually at location B instead during that time and date, that is provable, and placing the defendant at the scene of the crime has a significant effect on a case, so it is worth insisting on prosecution.
Once you are able to point to an established pattern of harassment and/or malicious prosecution, you may have some legal recourse. Talk to your attorney about your state’s laws, and which direction your legal action should take. You might prosecute for harassment, filing a simple restraining order, if your ex’s actions are dominated by physical or cyber stalking, harassing of your associates, or slander. If her main means of harassing you is the use of the legal system, you may be able to file a civil complaint. Many states have laws protecting citizens from malicious prosecution. You may be able to have your ex legally prevented from taking any more court action, civil or criminal, against you without a judge’s permission. To this end, discuss with your attorney filing a civil action against your ex for vexatious litigation or malicious prosecution.
This is where you will need that documentation more than ever, and why you should keep everything, from the most benign notices (change of date, change of venue, etc., ) to every false charge and all motions and claims filed. Evidence in favor of a vexatious litigation or malicious prosecution suit is the legal activity of the litigant who has been harassing you, and your documentation of the negative impact it has had on your life. This is not limited to the simple fact of time and financial resources spent on your defense. You’ll want to include the entire impact. You’ll need your experiences journal in addition to your whereabouts documentation journal.
The more information and evidence you have, the better your chances of winning that case.