I spent about 2 hours monitoring 4 injunction hearings in Judge Sally Kest's courtroom this morning. Typically, when an Injunction (also known as an Order for Protection or a Restraining Order) is granted, the Respondent is not permitted to contact the Petitioner at all. "No contact" means no emails, phone calls, texts or even messages relayed by a third party (unless one is designated by the Court to handle communications with respect to any children). However, when children are involved, parents often need to communicate with each other about visits, emergencies, etc. In most cases, another family member's home or the child's school/daycare can serve as the drop off and pick up point for the child so mom & dad don't have to see one another. And in most cases, this is a satisfactory solution for the parents.
Injunctions provide that the Respondent is not permitted to come within 500' of the Petitioner's residence or other prohibited place (e.g., Petitioner's place of employment). Nor is the Respondent allowed to come within 100' of the Petitioner's car (I'm not sure why the Statute doesn't say the Petitioner instead of their vehicle, but I digress).....
Only one case (the first one) involved a couple that had been married. The other three had children together. No paternity actions had been filed (see blog entitled "Paternity 101").
Case #1 [6 month injunction granted]: The parties were divorced some time ago. Petitioner (dad) had a cast on his hand as a result of his having punched a kitchen cabinet while on the phone with the Respondent. The Respondent (mom) admitted to having later touched the Petitioner first - sparking the violence that was the subject of this case. In her ruling, Judge Kest initially said that pick up & drop off for the children (ages 6, 12 & 17) at each others' houses was permitted. She then said the school would be the location, but that when school is closed, they could go to each other's homes. The Respondent (mom) then advised the judge that the younger children were already enrolled in a summer camp daycare program. In what appeared to be an effort to wrap up the hearing as quickly as possible, Judge Kest neglected to verbally indicate the camp as the pick up / drop off location during the summer and she failed to tell the parties the length of the injunction (although this is found in the paperwork each one receives).
Case #2 [12 month injunction granted]: The Petitioner alleged that her child's father, in addition to being violent, has alcohol problems and has driven their child while intoxicated. She requested supervised visitation and was denied. The judge prohibited both parties from consuming alcohol while caring for the child, and stated that if they were using a babysitter for 5+ hours while they were the custodial parent, the other parent was to take the child. Additionally, Judge Kest ordered "no hostile contact" for school events. She ordered the Petitioner to contact dad to advise him of any doctor appointments so that he would have the option to attend. This was ordered to be a "no hostile" scenario as well. She permitted email communication between the parties. In what was a gross oversight, there was testimony that this Respondent had a previous 1-yr injunction against him by the same Petitioner and allegedly violated it before it expired last year. Judge Kest failed to order him into Batterers' Intervention Program (BIP) as required by Florida Statute.
Case #3 [3-yr injunction granted]: The Respondent failed to appear for this hearing. The Petitioner advised the judge that the Respondent had served time in prison several years ago for an assault where she was the victim. The judge told her it was foolish of her to try to go back to him when he was released (in spite of the Petitioner's agreement with this assement, we belive that blaming the Petitioner under these circumstances was inappropriate). The Petitioner also advised that her child's father engaged in several power & control tactics with the child - taking away toys and blaming mom, verbally & emotionally abusing the child, verbally abusing mom in front of the child, etc. Judge Kest recommended the Petitioner seek counseling for herself to understand why she makes the decisions she's making (still appearing to blame the victim). She failed to order BIP in this case as well. It is also within the realm of the judges to order drug and/or alcohol evaluation/treatment. The Respondent's record includes numerous drug charges and assault offenses (12 cases in Orange County dating to 1998 when he turned 18). There was no testimony about the Respondent's drug convictions, nor did the judge inquire about his history.
Judge Kest did order supervised visitation through Family Ties but left the mother in tears because she is still terrified for the safety of her child. Unfortunately, this specimen of fatherhood, who didn't bother to come to court today, still has parental rights unless terminated by court order. No explanation of how the Family Ties program works was provided.
Case #4 [4 month injunction granted]: This was a case of apparent "mutual assault." The Respondent (mom) admitted to first grabbing the Petitioner in an attempt to get him to talk to her as he walked up some stairs with his back to her. He confirmed that he ripped her shirt off and tore off a necklace she was wearing. From the testimony I heard, it appeared to me that the Petitioner was the aggressor. Judge Kest would not accept police reports as evidence because they are considered hearsay. However, we believe that a law enforcement officer's observations about the parties' demeanor should be reviewed if available. This information would be found in a police report. Once again, the judge allowed "no hostile" contact when exchanging the child - asserting that mom and dad will have to have contact even though the paternal grandparents' home was designated as the exchange location. To imply that mom and dad will be required to come into contact with one another is to invite additional hostilities and create confusion about how to enforce the court order.
In all cases, no explanation of what "no contact" entails was attempted by the Court. In spite of the fact that both parties receive a copy of the court order, an explanation of the terms and conditions is critical. DV perpetrators and their victims often misunderstand the paperwork they're given - sometimes interpreting through their own biases. Harbor House advocates are available to explain the process and the rulings to petitioners. The repondents are on their own to figure it out.
Finally, I'll say it one more time, "no hostile contact" is not an enforceable ruling in cases where one person abuses their partner by perpetrating power and control over them. A certain glance, or a veiled threat that only the victim understands, would not be viewed as "hostile" by anyone outside of the relationship. Shouldn't the parent who is violent with his/her family be the one to have to abdicate their "right" to attend the school play while an injunction is in effect?