Family lawyer David Pisarra explains when it’s appropriate for a man to get a restraining order against his partner.
The topic of domestic abuse is the third rail in family law for men: it’s electrically charged and can kill you if you don’t know anything about it—but being aware of it can save your life.
Men are told they cannot hit a woman, even to defend themselves against an abusive partner. Men are also told it isn’t “manly” to call the police to “fight your fight.” A man is a coward, society tells us, if he attempts to call the police, and an abuser if he defends himself. He’s caught in a no-win situation.
From a legal perspective, what’s a guy to do if he is being verbally and/or physically abused by a woman?
First, he must leave the home and immediately call the police. He has to be willing to prosecute her and tell the police the truth about the abuse. This can be difficult for many men, particularly if there are children involved—no one wants to put a parent in jail—but the sad truth is that unless there are consequences, an abuser’s behavior is unlikely to change.
Remember: these situations generally escalate. It’s best to take steps to end the abuse before it becomes a chronic situation.
Under the law, anyone can abuse anyone. There are no size limitations. There is no requirement that the abused party be unable to defend themselves. It is simply a matter of what was said or done and how it was received. Abuse is not limited to whether blood has been drawn, whether there are bruises or broken a limbs. Abuse can be verbal threats of harm or death to a person or pet. And that’s when it’s time to get a restraining order, by appearing in front of a judge. Men tend to minimize threats and think that they don’t need to have a restraining order; but the point is not necessarily to protect yourself physically—it’s to protect you legally.
If there are children in the family, the party who has the domestic violence restraining order is presumed to be the better parent. Conversely, the courts will consider the party who is restrained to be a bad parent—and that it’s not in the children’s interest to have much unsupervised contact with that person.
Temporary Restraining Orders (sometimes called “Protective Orders”) are generally issued based on a declaration signed under penalty of perjury that someone is afraid. The standard of evidence is set very low for these orders, because they are not meant to last a long time (usually under three weeks). At the end of the three-week period there is usually a hearing at which live testimony is taken, so the judge can determine the credibility of the parties and the need for a Permanent Restraining Order.
Being the first to court is crucial for men facing a child custody battle. The courts will almost always issue the order—it is simply a question of which of you will be sleeping on a friends couch for a fortnight. Protecting ourselves means using the tools at our disposal. In medieval times, a good suit of armor and hefty sword were enough. Today it is a cell phone and a police officer. Men cannot physically defend themselves against a woman—it is not a matter of being called a coward, a wimp, a pussy, or a loser. It is a matter of a man creating a record to protect himself—and in some cases, his children.
—photo by ste/Flickr