False Allegations of Domestic Violence
In the words of one man, "She called 911 and smiled at me like a cat who had just caught the largest mouse." Unfortunately, when it comes to false domestic violence allegations, the statistics are not good. Seven hundred thousand individuals are wrongfully arrested for domestic violence each year. While women can be the victims of false domestic violence allegations, men are more often targeted.
Fathers' organizations now estimate that up to 80% of domestic violence allegations against men are false allegations. Furthermore, 70% of restraining orders are trivial or false. The definition of domestic violence has been so broadened it can include almost any touching or any act that upsets your partner in any way.
The Center for Disease Control now defines abuse as, "Domestic violence is abuse or violent action that occurs between two individuals in a close relationship. Physical abuse includes acts of violence in which one partner physically hurts the other by kicking, hitting or using other methods of physical force. Sexual abuse occurs when a partner is forced to have sexual contact without his or her consent. Emotional abuse includes acts such as controlling finances or outside relationships with friends and family, making verbal threats, or routinely making comments that damage a partner's sense of autonomy and self-worth."
In one recent story, a woman wanted a car that the family could not afford. When her husband said that they could not buy the car, the woman claimed her husband was abusive to her. She had previously read in a "Domestic Violence Check List" that if your husband tries to keep you from doing something you want to do, he is being abusive towards you.
A Rising Trend in Divorce Proceedings
When a separation or divorce is pending, it is not uncommon for domestic violence allegations to be exaggerated, misconstrued or fabricated entirely. RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) reports that allegations of domestic abuse and requests for protection orders are increasingly used for tactical advantages in divorces. According to Saveservices.org, in an estimated 25% of divorces, domestic violence allegations are made.
In 1994, the government passed the "Violence Against Women Act." While this act has significantly helped women who were in actual abusive situations, it has also allowed women to falsely accuse their spouses of domestic violence and get away with it. Because this act allows a woman to receive action without proof, it has the potential for abuse. Mandatory arrest laws can result in men being arrested regardless of the circumstances- even if no violence occurred whatsoever.
One woman who filed for domestic violence, later admitted under oath on a deposition that "my attorney told me to file, that it's customary." Claiming their spouse is violent can result in the victim receiving custody of the children and spousal support. Who wouldn't want to secure the cars, household or other assets accumulated during a marriage? Domestic violence victims can also receive other benefits such as free food, free shelter and free legal representation.
States have laws that require domestic violence training for police officers and encourage them to make arrests whenever allegations are made. If officers are becoming more predisposed to making arrests, are more individuals getting arrested unlawfully- without substantiated evidence or probable cause?
What can false allegations of domestic violence do?
False allegations of domestic violence can wreak havoc on a person's life and make a divorce case much more difficult and dragged out. Allegations of domestic violence can cause both civil and criminal consequences. False allegations of divorce can result in very specific, harmful consequences which include:
- Loss of custody- most states carry a statutory presumption, which means that when domestic violence allegations are brought up, the perpetrator is not awarded custody of the children.
- No mediation of disputes- when domestic abuse occurs, mediation is not required
- No contact and criminal violation- the court can order that the perpetrator not contact the victim(s). Any violation of a restraining order is a criminal offense that can result in incarceration.
- Exclusive use of the home- usually a perpetrator is excluded from the family home.
- Parental alienation syndrome- when someone is accused of domestic violence, he/she will often get no parenting time or supervised parenting time. These situations are cold and uninviting and send the message to children that "Daddy is dangerous."
- Anger management and treatment- the court usually requires a defendant to attend an anger management program, chemical dependency treatment or other therapies
- Restriction of civil liberties- under the bill "Brady Bill," a domestic violence perpetrator is not allowed to own or possess a firearm
- A severely ruined reputation among family, friends, co-workers and the community as a whole
- A loss of job or a career derailed
- A heavy financial burden, as the accused now has to face a legal fight to retain his children, visitation rights and his reputation
Avoiding False Allegations of Domestic Violence
What are some practical suggestions for preventing false allegations of domestic violence before they arise?
- Avoid conflict
- When a divorce is threatened, secure independent witnesses who can be present if conflict results
- Report all threats or hints that false accusations could be forthcoming
- After a conflict, consider filing a restraining order first or see if you can pursue a reciprocal order
According to one man, "A week before the accusations, my former wife told me she would get me removed from our home." Don't take these comments lightly! Tell Child Protective Services, your lawyer, or a police officer when necessary. Apathy and innocence could be the two greatest catalysts at work in false allegation cases.
The man continued to say, "The charges were later dropped, but the damage had been done…to my reputation, to my finances, and to my outlook on the criminal justice system." Protect yourself before it's too later by securing the legal representation you need. You need to be vigilant about warning signs that allegations could be imminent, and once they are made, you need to be proactive about contesting them!
What if it's too late?
If you have already been accused of violence, what can you do to keep this situation from spiraling out of control? The good news for you is that of all domestic violence calls, 65% of individuals will recant their story before it goes to trial. Nonetheless, if the accuser does take further legal action, you should follow these steps implicitly:
- Address the legal standard- does your ex-partner really have the necessary evidence required for filing a restraining order?
- Expose inconsistencies in the allegations
- Expose motivation to fabricate
- Keep all of your communication with your ex-partner to e-mail or other low contact methods
- Save money, as you will need plenty of funds if you hope to contest these allegations and win child custody
- Secure witnesses who can testify on your behalf
- Show up for court- otherwise a default judgment of guilty will be made and a restraining order will go into effect
- Conduct interim child custody exchanges in a highly visible place to discourage further allegations of abuse
When it comes to domestic violence cases, there is the lowest legal standard of proof. Courts often issue restraining orders on extremely weak evidence. While a person who claims domestic violence often has plenty of time to manufacture support for their claims, a defendant can be taken completely by surprise. Sometimes the court may limit testimony and evidence as well, due to time limitations. If you want to contest the allegations in court, you will need an aggressive defense on your side.
You can subpoena the police officer to testify in court, if the police were dispatched to the scene but no arrest occurred. You also need to quickly line up third party witnesses that have personal knowledge about the alleged incident.
You should thoroughly investigate any bruises and injures along with medical records and the timeline of events. You should secure an attorney immediately so that your rights are protected, all the evidence is properly presented and so that any inconsistencies are clearly exposed.
Consider who is victimized!
If you were thinking of making false allegations of domestic violence- don't do it. Consider who is victimized by these accusations. The sad reality is that in divorce cases, children can be used as pawns to achieve what one parent wants. High conflict divorces can reap long-term negative repercussions in a child's life.
Furthermore, false allegations of domestic violence are also harmful to the community. In the words of one report, "Beyond victimizing many innocent men and the children who love and need them, false allegations also draw resources and credibility away from women who really are victims of domestic violence, and who need protection." As one judge declared, "For someone to falsely accuse another out of anger and vengeance silences the voices of the many real victims."
If you desperately want the custody of your children, there are better ways to fight for this. Securing an experienced divorce attorney on your side can ensure that your rights are articulated and that you get the time with your children and the financial support that you deserve. Don't resort to dirty tactics- it simply isn't worth it.
Skilled Help from an Austin Family Lawyer
As a knowledgeable source on all issues related to family law, our firm, Menduni Martindill, PLLC has the answers you are looking for. We are members of the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists, the Texas Law Foundation, the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section and the Austin Bar Association Family Law Section. Attorney Becca Menduni is recognized nationally by Super Lawyers®, a publication of Thomson Reuters Corporation as a Texas Rising Star for 2010 and 2011.
Whether you need help fighting for child custody, visitation rights or spousal support, or whether you have been victimized by false allegations of domestic violence, contact Menduni Martindill, PLLC today for the legal representation and care you deserve! We would be happy to answer all of your questions, address your concerns and help you get through this difficult time. Give us a call now so we can evaluate your case today!