The case for abuse protection reform

On January 16th Bill Frates walked out of the Bristol County House of Correction a free man. He now faces the task of repairing his life: rebuilding personal relationships, finding employment, and reestablishing his financial viability. It is a cliché that all prisoners claim innocence, but Bill Frates says that an unjust law and its zealous application transformed him into a criminal. Like many other fathers estranged from their spouses, Frates was sent to jail for alleged violations of Massachusetts' notorious domestic abuse prevention law, Chapter 209A.

Because the issue of domestic violence has been anointed with a politically correct balm that tolerates no dissenting viewpoints, it was once considered taboo to even suggest that women might deliberately misuse laws intended to combat domestic violence. But the ugly truth can no longer be suppressed: Domestic abuse restraining orders ¾ 209A's ¾ are being misused to gain advantage in custody and divorce cases, as well as for other self-serving reasons.

This is how Bill Frates became a criminal. Because his ex-wife claimed she was in fear of him ¾ even though the only incidence of domestic violence occurred when she punched him during an argument while he was holding his two-year-old son ¾ he was kicked out of his home and prohibited from having normal contact with his children. Visitation was permitted only under supervision. The court allowed his mother, Geri Frates, to be his supervisor.

 

Abuse protection reform legislation is urgently needed because the law has been stretched and its provisions broadened to the extent that abuse protection orders are used as swords to cause harm and gain legal advantage, rather than as shields to protect legitimate victims from harm.

 

Bill's wife knew that getting an abuse protection order giving her custody of the children would enable her to move to Florida, effectively destroying his relationship with his children. She then contrived several violations, all but two of which were dismissed.

One such violation occurred on New Years Day 1993, as Bill and his mother were running late for his scheduled visitation. On prior occasions, Bill's wife had revoked the visitation if he was not precisely on time - once when he was just one minute late. Usually Geri would drop Bill off at a nearby park, but because they were afraid of not arriving precisely at 9am, she dropped him off at another location to save time. Geri says that the mother stepped outside and happened to see Bill down the street. Claiming that Bill was within the proscribed distance stipulated in the restraining order, she had him prosecuted for a violation. There is a lot more to Frates' story, and the more you hear, the uglier it gets.

Restraining orders that prohibit or restrict contact with one's children, requiring absurdly elaborate logistics to simply arrange a visit with them, are just that - absurd. Other prosecutions for restraining order violations include the case of a man who served two years in jail for attempting to contact the father of his ex wife's boyfriend... to find out about his 22-month-old daughter who was hospitalized. Another man spent 301 days in jail for trying to meet with his daughter's schoolteacher. Another spent six months in jail for attempting to get a message to his ex wife's sister through a telephone operator. His mother was on her deathbed, and wanted to see her grandchildren.

Abuse protection reform legislation is urgently needed because the law has been stretched and its provisions broadened to the extent that abuse protection orders can and are used as swords to cause harm and gain legal advantage, rather than as shields to protect legitimate victims from harm.

It is commonplace in divorce litigation for an agreement to be reached wherein the woman agrees to drop an abuse protection order, an implicit acknowledgment that the order was not sought for protection from harm. That such legal maneuvers are recognized without any adverse inference from the courts is a tacit recognition that abuse protection orders are used for reasons other than for protection, i.e., fraudulently.

Abuse protection law should ensure the protection and safety of individuals who are suffering physical violence in the home. Abuse protection law should not provide for:

Recognizing that the law must provide a delicate balance between the competing interests of ensuring that victims of domestic violence receive the protection they need while ensuring due process rights for accused perpetrators, it is now time to direct emphasis to the latter.

Several bills in the State House attempt a very small step toward disengaging us from the dangerous path we are on. These reform bills address accidental violations of restraining orders, the introduction of the rules of evidence at restraining order hearings, perjury committed to obtain a restraining order, and the victim-defined "fear of " clause in the definition of "abuse." The reform bills do not affect the protections necessary for true victims, but they begin to address those provisions of the law that encourage its misuse.

Turning a blind eye to the fraudulent use of abuse protection orders doesn't just result in divorce meltdowns and unjust jailing of innocent men. It is a contributing factor to fatherlessness. We are just beginning to recognize the enormous cost of this social ill. No-contact restraining orders are inherently injurious to the father-child relationship.

Filling our jails with men whose only "crime" is wanting to be with their children must be stopped. Let's bring an end to this restraining order madness.

 

News and Commentary from the New Guard of the Father's Rights Movement

Volume 1, Issue 1
March, 1997

PO Box 1146 Leominster, MA 01453
www.ziplink.net/~brontis/FFhome

All Rights Reserved

 

Return to top

 


Return to CPF home page