We hear about domestic abuse frequently. It's on television, billboards, radio, flyers and posters. Unfortunately what we don't hear about is how Rhode Island's Protection from Abuse laws are themselves being abused by people who want to wreak vengeance on another person for any number of reasons.
For those that are unfamiliar with the process, it is relatively straightforward. You fill out a few triplicate forms indicating your relationship to the person against whom the "protection from abuse order" is sought and the date(s) the threats or actions that lead you to reasonably believe imminent bodily harm is going to happen to you and the relief you are seeking from the court. In otherwords you paint a picture for the judge that will read it. What led you to file for this Protection from Abuse Request? What was said? What was done? What do you have personal knowledge about regarding this person that justifies the relief you are requesting. You sign this as a sworn statement under oath.
What happens next? You go before the court and a Rhode Island Family Court Judge reads your application for a Protection from Abuse Order and your affidavit. If the court finds any reasonable basis upon which to believe that the Order should be issued for the protection of the party applying to the court, the court will grant it. This is all based upon your sworn affidavit.
So what is the relief? Consistently it is a "no contact order" that the person against whom it is sought may not contact the applicant in any way until a full hearing can be held within the statutory amount of time. More often than not, it also includes ordering the person against whom it is sought that he or she must remain out of the house.
If the parties have minor children together the Order may give exclusive custody of those minor children to the applicant which although not specifically denying the other parent visitation has that practical effect.
Unfortunately the system gets abused without consequences. Persons come before the court and fabricate circumstances that never existed, distort the truth and make glaring omissions. If the court knew the true facts and circumstances the vast majority of these abuses would be curtailed and the order would never be granted.
My stomach turns each time I am privy to persons who lie to the court with impunity because the law has not provided for adequate punishment for those who abuse Rhode Island's Protection from Abuse Laws. Particularly those who lie to the court under oath on their affidavit.
It says much about people who boldly go before the court and lie to achieve their own silent agendas. Fathers and sometimes mothers are ordered out of their homes and unable to see their children because the mother of their children feels scorned or has a boyfriend or girlfriend that they want to shack up with in the couple's home. Many times those people who seek the Protective Orders call the very person they do not want contact with in order to provoke a response, the other party (most frequently the man) is then arrested and then use the criminal charge either as further leverage in a divorce or as some sense of misguided vindication that makes them feel better.
Perhaps this all comes down simply to one's sense of honor or personal morality. Yet for the man (I refer to "men" here because I estimate that at least 9 out of 10 applicants) who is forced from his home, unable to see his children, possibly subjected to criminal charges, may lose his job and/or the respect of friends and colleagues . . . it is an exercise in injustice and a very sobering experience that such a thing could even be allowed by the court.
So where does this abuse lie? The abuse finds it's home in the audacity of those who without conscience lie under oath to the court for their own purposes with little worry of prosecution, retribution, or even penalty.
So what is the remedy for a man subject to all these damaging consequences, including prosecution, etc... if it is proven that the women's claims in the initial affidavit were false? Dismissal of the family court's initial order but NOT any criminal violation that may have occurred on the Protection from Abuse Order that never should have issued. The consolation for such a man who has not done the things he was accused of is no consolation at all. . . simply the realization that injustice exists and the impression that upon a person swearing before a Notary Public to lies in their affidavit the court appears to rubber stamp that injustice to the detriment of good people.
All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™