David Pisarra, a Men’s Rights lawyer, discusses ‘the new type of abuse—the marginalization of fathers.’
“He raised his voice at me, and I was frightened he was going to hurt me and the kids.”
That’s it. That’s all it takes for a man to lose his children in today’s hyper-sensitive landscape of domestic violence prevention.
This sea change can be traced to the days and months following the tragic death of Nicole Brown Simpson, when the public outcry by the domestic violence lobby moved beyond confronting actual physical altercations and began focusing on the perceived threat of violence. By casting such a wide net, centered almost entirely on male against female domestic violence, there have been unintended consequences that play themselves out in Family Court every day.
With nothing more than a woman stating, “I was frightened he might hurt us,” a court can remove a man from his home and prevent him from seeing his children for a minimum of three weeks. Often the court will also order either an anger management or a batterer’s intervention class and generally grant the demand by his ex-spouse that he have supervised visitation.
The intrusion by the courts into family dynamics has become so extreme that the domestic violence laws are no longer being used to protect potential victims, but rather to victimize potential abusers.
Let me be clear about this: in the eyes of the court, all men are considered to be potential abusers. No matter his history, if there was any provocation, or if he was in fact the abused victim. This last point is made even more interesting when considering that female-on-male domestic violence make up 50-percent of all cases, yet it is the man who is singled out as being potentially dangerous. And while as an attorney, my professional life is predicated on “innocent until proven guilty,” and “all” is a word to be carefully considered before using, I will say that due to O.J. Simpson’s horrific, inexcusable, and deadly behavior, a shadow has been cast on all men in all cases.
The courts no longer believe there is any appropriate expression of anger and, in essence, have outlawed the emotion. We have made it strategically impossible for a person to display anger in any form, whether a mental health professional would label it a “healthy expression” or not, without the line being automatically drawn to an actual act of physical violence.
But the fact is that humans have a full range of emotions. We get happy, we get sad, and yes, we get angry. And while it is absurd to think that our judicial system could legislate our happiness or sadness, it appears to gladly accept the notion that expressing anger in any fashion should have legal consequences.
In states across the country, if one parent is determined to be an “abuser”—and in California that means a raised voice—that person is no longer presumed to be a fit parent. The “victim parent” is now presumed to be a better parent and has an advantage when the court makes final determinations of child custody, visitation, and move-away plans to new cities, states, or countries.
This has created the unintended consequence of the strategic domestic violence restraining order. When one parent wants to take unfair advantage in a divorce or paternity case, all that is needed is the granting of domestic violence restraining order and the court will automatically suspend the other parent’s parental rights—usually for a short period. But to the cut-off parent, that brief time can seem like an eternity.
If the court determines that there are grounds for a permanent order, the cut-off parent may be forced to endure a 52-week batterer’s intervention course. The problem with this is that in the flimsy guidelines of what defines domestic violence these days, almost any fact pattern can be twisted to create “violence.”
For fathers who are required to have a monitor to see their children, which is becoming a more common occurrence as a requirement due to the domestic violence allegations, they may be unable to see their children. The costs of a paid monitor can quickly become prohibitive since the man will also be ordered to pay child support, often spousal support, the cost of the batterer’s intervention or anger management classes, and he has to find his own apartment since he’s been evicted from his home.
Domestic Violence Restraining Orders originally were meant to be a protective measure by the courts. But they have become a fast track process by which unscrupulous parties gain sole legal and sole physical custody of the children.
And, as is typical in “win at all cost” child custody cases, it is often the child that suffers the most. The “victim parent” strategy may yield short-term results for the accusing spouse, but the bad lessons learned by the child may last a lifetime.
Fathers who are truly guilty of domestic violence or child abuse should be viewed as criminals and treated as such. But in our rush to avoid these types of tragedies through a “zero tolerance policy,” we have gone against the most important tenet of the law: Innocent Until Proven Guilty. And the result is that we are creating and perpetuating a new type of abuse—the marginalization of fathers.