If you are a man and you have children, you must read this article. No, let me rephrase that sentence. If you have children, man or woman, you must read this article. This article, this letter, may be the most important piece of paper you read this year.
Before I get into the meat of the article, let me just say this. Legal professionals write articles and journals for the sole purpose of being published. These articles tend to be boring. They tend to be filled with citations. They are typically plagued with legal jargon. In short, most legal articles are long, difficult to read, and darn-near impossible to understand. The reason why legal articles are written this way is because lawyers either want to sound smart or they want to impress their peers.
Those types of articles have their place, but not this article. The purpose of this article is to warn. The purpose of this article is to inform all parents. The purpose of this article is to save you from losing your child. And with this important purpose, this article must be understood. This article is for people, everyday people, and not just for lawyers or judges.
So, this article will be straightforward and to the point. Consider it a letter, a love letter, from me to you. Let’s get to it.
The Power of a Civil Protection Order
Do not underestimate the power of a civil protection order!
If you are a man, no—if you are a parent with children and the other parent of the children files for a protective order against you, do not take it lightly. It can and will cost you the custody of your children.
D.C. law has a rule (and maybe other states have this same rule) that says any parent who has a civil protection order against him (or her) is not fit to have custody of his (or her) child. What? Yes, that is right. If a judge grants your baby’s mother a civil protection order even though she has absolutely no proof to suggest that you will do something harmful to her, the mother was just granted sole legal custody of your child. And, if you want to see your child in the near future, it is likely that your visitations will be supervised.
So, here is what this entire twisted scenario may look like. Say you and your child’s mother—no, no, no. Let me not say mother. A mother just as well as a father can be burned by this. Even though it seems that men are more often caught in this web than women, this law is not a respecter of gender. So, to be clear, this impacts both sexes.
So then, say you and the other parent of your child share joint custody. You might even be the primary custodial parent. The other parent has every other weekend visitation. One weekend, after the visitation has ended, you go to other parent’s home at the agreed time to pick up your child and you notice that no one is home. You knock on the door. No one answers. You call the parent’s cell phone. No one answers. You text. Nothing. So, you sit and wait. You wait and wait and wait. It’s now midnight and you hear nothing. You are worried sick. “Where is my child?”
Finally, after midnight, you get a text from the other parent saying, “Hey! Just so you know, I’m not bringing the child to you. You should have never had custody anyway. Stop texting me. We’ve moved.”
You read the text and your anger boils! You were already sick to your stomach not knowing where or what had happened to your children, but now you get this text? You immediately respond to the text with, “If you don’t bring my child back to me—I swear to GOD!!!!!!”
Of course, the parent ignores your text, so you follow up with a series of texts. You are angry. You’re confused. Your heart hurts. You have no idea what to do so you just continue texting the other parent. You call people who may know where the other parent may be, but no one knows. You call the police, and the police offer little to no help. So all you can do is text that parent and tell them, yes, threaten them—“bring my baby back to me or else!!”
Ah! The threatening text.
After receiving a good 20, 30, 50 texts from you, the other parent goes to court and files for an order of protection. The other parent makes no mention that he/she just kidnapped your child, all he/she says is that “I’m afraid for my life!” A few months later, you have a hearing, maybe you don’t show up, maybe you do, but in the end, just to be safe, the judge awards the other parent a protective order—protecting that parent from an angry you.
In this situation, unbeknownst to you, you just lost custody of your child. Just that easily.
How You Lose Custody
So how did you just lose custody of your child? Here is how it works. According to the law in D.C. (and other states may have similar laws), once an order of
protection is granted against you, you immediately lose your rights as a joint custodial parent. Specifically, the law says, “if a judicial officer finds by a preponderance of the evidence that an intrafamily offense … has occurred,” there is a “presumption that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child.” D.C. Code § 16-914(a)(2).
What is an Intrafamily Offense?
Well, what in the world is an intrafamily offense anyway? Sending text messages to someone who just kidnapped my child cannot be considered an intrafamily offense can it? As Sherlock Holmes would say, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
Obviously, the answer seems to be no. But let’s take a close look at all of this.
Consequences of an Intrafamily Offense
An intrafamily offense is an offense punishable as a criminal offense against an intimate partner, a family member, or a household member. “Well,” you may say, “sending a text is not an offense punishable as a criminal offense. So, what’s the deal?”
Sending an angry text may not be, in and of itself, a criminal offense, but threatening to harm is an offense that can lead to a court granting a protective order and a protective order is, by law, suggests that an intrafamily offense was committed. This order subjects a parent to all the consequences of an intrafamily offense.
Why It’s So Easy to Lose Custody Over a Text Message
Some say it is way too easy to get a protective order issued against you. And these people who say this are right. It is too easy to have an order of protection issued against a parent—usually men, but there is a reason why it is easy. If a parent petitions for a protective order and a judge denies the petition and the petitioning parent ends up
with a broken skull, that result puts that judge in a bad light. The judge was in a position to protect the broken-skulled parent. In a way, it would be the judge’s fault. So, to “protect” themselves against being blamed for a parent’s broken skull, most judges take a plea for protection somewhat seriously and grant the order of protection. Even if there is not a ton of supporting evidence, to be on the “safe” side, most judges will issue an order of protection—if it is not heavily contested.
What to do if an Order of Protection is Filed?
If a family member or parent files a petition for an order of protection against you, do not take it lightly. Take it very seriously. Hire an attorney. Tell the attorney all the facts. Answer the important questions.
What led to you sending hateful texts or leaving threatening voicemails? Have you ever hit the other parent before? Have you ever hit your child before? Do you have a violent history? Has the other parent ever hit you or your child?
This civil protection hearing may be the most important hearing you ever attend. You and an attorney who is well prepared can prevent you from losing custody of your children. Time is the most important commodity in this life. No one should needlessly lose time away from their children over nonsense.
Take Protective Orders Seriously
If you have a pending protection order filed against you, call an attorney immediately. I have represented many people who didn’t call me until after the protective order was issued against them and the consequences were serious, dare I say life changing. Months away from your child can have generational consequences. So again, please, as soon as you get served that CPO paper, call an attorney. Take it seriously.
Founder and Managing Partner
Solon Phillips, Partner of the General Litigation Group at Remus Enterprises Law Group, is an experienced legal professional with extensive experience working in large law firms while devoting much of his spare time in volunteer work in public service.