About 15 years ago a pastor in a Twin Cities suburb chose the topic of domestic violence for a Sunday sermon. During the following week the pastor received phone calls from some parishioners who were upset with the sermon because “that just doesn’t happen in our town.” Anyone who feels the same way should spend one morning in their local courthouse to see how many of their neighbors are touched by domestic violence. I know they would be shocked. Many of the defendants (alleged abusers) are repeat offenders, often against the same victim.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and has been for 30 years. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women on Oct. 1 issued its Homicide Report with an “overview of the known homicides due to domestic violence in 2018.” In 2018, at least nine women and one man died from intimate partner violence, and at least four bystanders/interveners died. Of these, five were separated from or attempting to leave the perpetrator. The organization has resources available for victims and their families at www.mcbw.org or 1-800-289-6177.
Victims of domestic violence can file a civil petition for an order for protection (OFP). The forms are available on the state court website at www.mncourts.gov/forms. The petition is filed with the court with no filing fee or service of process fees required. A judge may issue an emergency order against the Respondent without any prior notice. The order can include the following if there is the imminent danger of further domestic violence to the victim: no contact with Petitioner, and/or children, exclusion from Petitioner’s residence and place of work.
The Respondent is then personally served with the Order and Petition by a deputy sheriff. A hearing is held within seven days. Pending a hearing, the Respondent is generally ordered to have no contact of any kind with the Petitioner. If domestic violence has occurred against a child, the court will appoint a guardian to advocate for the child.
At the hearing the Respondent may (a) admit the facts alleged by Petitioner; or (b) agree to a restraining order without any findings of fact that domestic abuse occurred; or (c) deny the allegations and have a hearing. If the matter is contested, witnesses give sworn testimony and the judge decides if the Petitioner has proven that domestic abuse has occurred.
If domestic abuse is not proven, the Petition is dismissed. If the Petitioner proves domestic abuse, then an Order for Protection is issued which may include the relief indicated above, as well as, paying child care costs and medical insurance costs; monetary support for Petitioner; monetary damages to the Petitioner as a result of the domestic violence; and alcohol/chemical abuse counseling. Prohibiting possession of a firearm by Respondent is a mandatory federal law.
An OFP may be issued for a period of up to two years. Either party may make a motion to modify the order while it is in effect. A frequent occurrence of great concern to the court is that Petitioners often come back shortly after the OFP is issued and request dismissal, sometimes stating they were forced to file the petition by a family member or friend, or that “everything is fine now and Respondent promises to go to treatment.”
Many victims insist they are economically destitute without the Respondent’s paycheck and ask the Court to dismiss the OFP.
Domestic violence continues to be a major public health problem in our communities. Children are being raised in homes where parents are using chemicals to excess, arguing all the time, and sometimes resorting to physical violence in the presence of their children. This creates a “circle of violence” in which children grow up to be abusers or victims because that is what they grew up with in their family and they think it is normal.
Domestic violence is a pervasive problem with which we should all be concerned. It is happening in all of our communities, including the town where you live or work.
Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo.