Orders of protection (which are sometimes called "restraining orders") are important tools that the court can use to protect domestic abuse victims. By necessity, it's important for the court to be able to push through a temporary order quickly—often on an emergency basis. That usually means that the accused abuser isn't present in court, or even notified, at the time of the initial hearing.
Unfortunately, that also means that the system is sometimes abused during divorce. Learn more about how often it happens and why—as well as how to react if it happens to you.
Are false allegations of domestic violence really a problem?
Yes. Around 1/4 of all divorces include an allegation of domestic violence. While most of the people approaching the court to ask for an order of protection are probably sincere, it's estimated that 1.5 million temporary orders are later judged to be based on trivial or entirely false allegations. While women are also victimized by false allegations, it's important to remember that the vast majority—85%—of restraining orders are issued against men.
What does the accuser gain through a false allegation of abuse?
The benefit to a real victim who needs a temporary restraining order is safety. The benefit for someone who is using the temporary restraining order as a tool can include:
- exclusive possession of the house because the spouse is forced to vacate
- exclusive custody of the children, if there are any, because the spouse is often forced to stop visitation until the hearing for the permanent order is held and the order is lifted (assuming that it becomes clear the allegations are baseless)
- immediate financial support, which can be ordered along with the temporary restraining order
- access and custody of all of your financial records, if they're at your home, which could make it difficult for you to build your own divorce case and establish a fair settlement offer
- access and custody of all the marital property, which means that—absent a court order saying otherwise—your accuser can sell or dispose of at will
- bargaining ability when it comes to the divorce itself—especially if you're desperate to see your children or want the shadow of the temporary order lifted
- a chance the judge will grant a permanent order, which could seriously undermine your ability to get custody or normal visitation with your children
- revenge, because you will probably be served notice of the temporary order by the police in a public place, likely in front of coworkers, friends, family members, or your boss
How do you fight a false allegation of abuse?
First, don't attempt to reason with your accuser. If he or she were inclined to be reasonable, this wouldn't be happening. Take a wholly different approach.
Start by keeping your cool when served and be honest when you are asked what is happening by friends, coworkers, or neighbors. The calmer and more matter-of-fact that you are about the whole issue, the less you'll play into your accuser's game plan. Don't call your spouse names or say that they are crazy. Just say that the allegations are untrue and you consider it an intimidation tactic.
In the meantime, do nothing to violate the order. Read it carefully. Contact the police and ask for an escort so that you can go to your home and collect your personal things. Keep in mind that you'll likely have a limited amount of time to gather up what you need so be smart and grab things you can't replace—like your financial records.
Also, stay off social media—you don't want to fuel the fire or give your spouse any ammunition against you.
Finally, immediately hire an attorney. You need someone who will advocate for you and help you fight the charges as quickly as possible so that you can move on with your divorce and your life. Resources like http://madisonlf.com can be a good start.