Here’s Chapter 10,000 in the book entitled “How to Abuse Your Right to a TRO.” (News Herald, 11/19/10).
It seems that a Panama City, Florida woman had to appear in court and she was afraid that she might go to jail following her hearing. So she sent her ex-husband a text message asking him to be there at the hearing so that, if she were taken to jail, he could take custody of their 18-month-old daughter.
That request seems reasonable under the circumstances as was his agreement to be there, just in case.
But when he showed up in court at the appointed time, she had him arrested for violating the restraining order already in effect against him. No kidding.
Sheriff’s deputies checked to make sure there was an existing order and the man admitted that he had received a copy of it, so it was off to jail for him. That was true even though sheriff’s deputies testified that there was no contact between the two.
More to the point, after he was in jail, the woman admitted to what she’d done, i.e. used the TRO and the man’s concern for his child’s welfare to get him tossed into jail. Now of course he’s got not only a TRO against him but a violation of it on his record to boot. And why? Because he was trying to do the right thing, the responsible thing for his daughter.
It doesn’t get a lot more blatant than this. Orders of protection are far too easy to obtain. There’s little a target can do to prevent one’s being issued against him. TROs are routinely used to diminish fathers’ parental rights of access to their children, both during and after divorce proceedings.
Consider the position this father is now in. What happens the next time the mother calls him and says “Can you come and get Janey? I have to go to the doctor and my sitter can’t come.” What’s he to do? The sensible thing? The caring thing? Or the prudent thing?
If he does the former, he risks another stay in jail and another black mark on his record. If he does the latter, he distances himself from his daughter. What would you do in his place?
Once a TRO is issued, it doesn’t matter how sensible the father’s actions may be, a violation means he goes to jail. And each such incident on his record further diminishes his rights and his standing to defend himself in future cases, should any arise.
We’ve seen men jailed for sending birthday cards to their children, so I suppose this case shouldn’t cause so much as a raised eyebrow. But the fact remains that TROs are misused. They’re a quick and easy way to keep fathers from children. Family attorney’s across the country have for years condemned their use as nothing more than tactics in child custody cases. But facts and common sense fall on deaf ears in the halls of state legislatures.
TROs are one of many tools in the box used for separating fathers from their children and children from their fathers. In a small minority of cases, TROs have their legitimate place. But the time is long past when restrictions on their use should have been enacted. Those restrictions involve due process of law before issuance and after, as well as commonsense application of orders in place.
Those would mean, among other things, that fathers would have an opportunity to defend themselves before a TRO is granted. Mothers like the one in the article would not be allowed to have a man arrested on false pretenses. Fathers, again like the one in the article, would not be tossed in jail for behaving in responsible ways, even those that may technically violate the order. And orders should never be drawn so broadly as to prohibit fathers sending birthday cards to their kids.
Why do we have to keep saying this?