domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

One of the most controversial areas of Family Law is domestic violence. There are no easy answers or solutions to domestic violence. What you read on this website may be troubling to you, whether you are the accused or accuser. What you read is very troubling to us too, and we wrote it.

As you read this section on domestic violence, all we ask is that you understand that we know that there are legitimate claims every day of domestic violence. We know that incidences of domestic violence have resulted in: death, rape, battery, maiming and the inexcusable abuse of children. We are aware that domestic violence leaves both physical and emotional scars upon the parties, their children, and in most incidences extended family too.

So here is some friendly (and free) advice:

If you have been subjected to domestic violence, your first priority is to immediately seek shelter in a safe and secure location. Do not “stand your ground.” Leave as quickly as you possibly can to a place of safety. Do not worry about your property. Just go. Do not hesitate to run as fast as you can to a safe place. If the best you can do is to lock yourself into a room, do it. After you are safe, call for help.

If you have the slightest suspicion that you are about to become a party, may become a party, to a domestic violence case, or if you have the slightest suspicion that you are about to, or may become a victim of domestic violence, you should immediately seek shelter in a safe and secure location and never ever return to any location where you have reason to believe your well-being may be in danger. Do not “stand your ground.” Do not wait to see what may happen next. Do not confront your spouse or domestic partner. Go directly to a safe and secure location.

The best way to avoid becoming a party to domestic violence is to not place yourself in a position where you are at risk. Never attempt to defuse (or handle) a domestic violence situation by yourself.

From your location of the safety, it will then be possible for you (with the assistance of others) to evaluate your situation. From your location of the safety, you will be able to work with family, friends or other properly trained professionals to defuse the situation. If a domestic violence situation does arise, the assistance of a friend, family member, or trained professional maybe invaluable to help you decide what to do. An independent third party witness will always be your best friend when a domestic violence situation gets out of control. From your location of the safety, you will then be able to seek legal redress as may be necessary.

What is domestic violence?

The Center for Disease Control defines domestic violence as any abuse or violent action that occurs between two individuals in a close relationship. In Maryland, domestic violence is defined in MD Code Ann FL §4-501. Definitions. In order to obtain a domestic violence protection order, the following are required: a “person eligible for relief” must file a petition for a domestic violence protection order with a court (or the District Court Commissioner). In that petition, the accuser must allege that abuse occurred in the home and that the accuser seeks relief from the alleged abuser.

Abuse is defined under MD Code Ann FL §4-501(b) as being means any of the following acts:

(i) an act that causes serious bodily harm;
(ii) an act that places a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm;
(iii) assault in any degree;
(iv) rape or a sexual offense under §§ 3-303 through 3-308 of the Criminal Law Article or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree;
(v) false imprisonment; or
(vi) stalking under § 3-802 of the Criminal Law Article.

But that is not all, mental abuse is also grounds to have you removed from your home. Additional types of abuse include:
Verbal Abuse consisting of constant criticism, mocking, humiliating remarks, yelling, swearing, name-calling, (believe it or not) interrupting;

Sexual Abuse consisting of forcing sex on an unwilling partner; demanding sexual acts that your spouse does not wish to perform, or degrading treatment.

The isolation that consists of making it hard for the victim to see friends and relatives, monitoring phone calls, reading their mail, controlling where the victim goes, taking the victim’s car keys, destroying the victim’s passport.

Coercion: making the victim feel guilty, sulking, manipulating children and other family members; always insisting on being right; making up impossible rules and punishing the victim for breaking those rules.

Harassment: embarrassing the victim in public, constantly checking up on the victim, refusing to leave when asked.

Economic Control: not paying bills, refusing to give the victim money, not letting the victim work, interfering with the victim’s job, prohibiting the victim from going to school, not allowing the victim to learn a job skill, refusing to work and support the family.

Abusing a Trust: lying or breaking promises, withholding important information, being unfaithful, being overly jealous, not sharing domestic responsibilities.

Threats and Intimidation: threatening to harm the victim, the children, family members, and pets, using physical size to intimidate, shouting, keeping weapons and threatening to use them.

Emotional withholding: not expressing feelings, not giving compliments, not paying attention, not respecting the victim’s feelings, rights and opinions, not taking the victim’s concerns seriously.

Destruction of property: Destroying furniture, punching walls, throwing or breaking things, abusing pets.

Self-destructive behavior: abusing drugs or alcohol, threatening self-harm or suicide, driving recklessly, deliberately doing things that will cause trouble.

If the above list (cf. the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence) sends a chill down your spine, it should. There are literally over one million websites dedicated to mental abuse and domestic violence. There are literally over one million websites dedicated to how to obtain a Maryland domestic violence restraining order, and over two million websites dedicated to how to obtain a domestic violence restraining order nationwide. By way of contrast, there are less than three hundred twenty thousand websites dedicated to false allegations of domestic violence.

Do we have your attention?

Signposts that you are about to become a domestic violence statistic.
Ask yourself the following questions:

a. Is my marriage (or domestic relationship) coming to an end?
b. Have my spouse (or domestic partner) and I was arguing or fighting?
c. Has my spouse (or domestic partner) previously engaged in (angry) physical or verbal contact with me?
d. Did I recently catch my spouse (or domestic partner) cheating?
e. Did my spouse recently (or domestic partner) catch me cheating?

And most importantly:

f. Does my spouse (or domestic partner) want me out of the house?
g. Has my spouse (or domestic partner) told me that they want a separation or divorce?
h. Has my spouse (or domestic partner) been trying to pick a fight with me or tried to provoke me in any way?

If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, you should be concerned that a domestic violence petition could, and might be, filed against you at any time, even if the allegations of domestic violence are false. Once domestic violence is alleged, the entire composition of your divorce and child custody case will be changed forever.

There are many harsh realities of domestic violence that not many legal professionals are going to tell you (or put on their websites). Advocacy groups are everywhere that justifiably decry domestic violence (as we do), but there are almost no advocacy groups that decry false claims of domestic violence. There are unscrupulous attorneys who routinely will advise their clients to provoke a fight with their spouse if they want him/her out of the house; or worse, file a petition even if the facts are not true because “everyone does it”. Just when we think that we have “seen it all” or “heard it all”, another incredible case crosses our path.

The harsh reality of domestic violence is: anyone can accuse you of domestic violence simply by the filing of a petition for a domestic violence protection order with the legal authorities. Once a claim of domestic violence has been made against you, you must realize that your relationship with the accuser is over and beyond repair. You must understand that any claim of domestic violence made against you could forever ruin your life. You must understand that any claim of domestic violence made against you is extremely serious. Under most instances where domestic violence has resulted in a protection order, you will be subjected to an unfavorable child custody ruling by some judge in the future. Another harsh reality of domestic violence is; you could end up going to jail.

Some sage words of advice…
A motel room is a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring an attorney to defend you in a domestic violence case. A motel room is a hell of a lot nicer than a jail cell. If you have no money, the local homeless shelter is a hell of a lot nicer than a jail cell too. Never ever attempt to defuse (or handle) a situation where domestic violence is alleged or has occurred by yourself. If your relationship has deteriorated to a point where you believe your presence is not wanted, leave. Fighting can only result in making a bad situation worse. Trust us, we know, we have been prosecuting and defending domestic violence cases for over a decade, and they ain’t pretty.

Here are a few more suggestions for you to avoid being the victim of a false domestic violence allegation.

Avoid the fight:
Once your spouse threatens you with divorce, make sure there are other people around you who can be present if a conflict arises. Report all threats to family or friends. Write any threat, hint, false statement or accusation down on a calendar, diary, or email so you have a record of them.

File first:
If you see it coming, run, don’t walk, to the District Court Commissioner, the Court, or our law offices. File for a domestic violence protection order. Ensure that there is a record that your spouse is making a false accusation against you (this is a form of abuse).

Retain Counsel
If you suspect that your spouse is up to no good, chances are that your instincts are correct. Immediately seek the assistance of a lawyer. You are going to need help sooner or later, and most often, it is less expensive if you get help sooner.

What about false allegations of domestic violence?

The story you are about to read is real. Not too many years ago we were retained to defend an unemployed husband whose executive wife wanted him out of the marital home. They had been married for over twenty years. The wife called 911 and alleged that the husband had committed domestic violence against her. The 911 Operator that help was on the way. The wife had a not too long conversation with the 911 Operator while the police were in route. When the Police arrived, the husband was not at home. The Police advised the wife to go to the Commissioners office and to file for a domestic violence protection order, which she did. Without any warning whatsoever, in the middle of the night, while the parties were sleeping in the same bed, the Montgomery County Sheriff woke the husband, and immediately removed him from the home. He had minutes to collect a change of clothes and a few personal items. He was also served with an arrest warrant and arrested for domestic violence against the wife. He spent the rest of the night in jail. The next day he retained us.

To make a long story short, sometime later in the criminal charges arising from the wife’s domestic violence complaint, the Montgomery County State’s Attorney extended to us a plea offer of probation before judgment if our client would plead guilty to second-degree assault. This way he would avoid going to jail. We declined the offer. We demanded that the State’s Attorney produce a recording of the 911 call. After a few weeks, they were able to obtain the recording of the 911 wife’s call for help. In the office of the State’s Attorney, the Assistant State’s Attorney and I both listened to the 911 call. The wife’s voice was calm and showed no stress. In the middle of the call, you could overhear the wife say that she had been trying to get the husband to leave the home, she wanted him out of the home, and that he had refused to go. We were able to have the criminal charges dropped.

There are many, many more cases that we have been involved with that have similar facts.

We know that when it comes to false claims of domestic violence, the system is stacked against men. The statistics back up our experiences, and they are not good. It has been reported that over seven hundred thousand individuals are wrongfully arrested for domestic violence every year. And that is only arrests. The above figures do not include false allegations of domestic violence in civil cases. While women are most often the victims of domestic violence, men are most often the targets of false allegations of domestic violence.

Men’s rights organizations have estimated that up to 80% of domestic violence allegations against men are false; and that 70% of restraining orders are based on trivial or false allegations. As noted in the above paragraphs, the definition of domestic violence has been broadened so much that just about any act that makes your spouse upset could be deemed abuse. And God helps you if the act involves an unwanted touching.

What do I do if I have already been accused? Is it too late to do anything?
If you are alleged to have been involved in a domestic violence situation, you should immediately retain an attorney. DO NOT WAIT. Domestic violence cases move through the courts… fast. In just two (2) weeks, your entire life could be irretrievably turned upside down.

We never recommend that you go to court to defend yourself against a claim of domestic violence. The odds are stacked too much against you. Here is yet another harsh reality of the typical domestic violence situation:

1. Judges do not want their names appearing in the morning newspapers. If a Judge issues a Domestic Violence Protection Order and something happens to the alleged victim, they will be reported as having done the right thing. If they issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order and nothing happens, so what? If they do not issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order and something does happen to the victim, the Judge runs the risk of having every women’s group and/or reporter attacking their judgment in the morning newspaper.
2. Women’s Groups are in court and take notes on every domestic violence case that comes before the court. They send those notes to the Governor second-guessing the Judge.
3. Women’s advocacy groups appear for free to “aid and comfort” domestic violence victims in court. Despite objections to their presence, Judges are reluctant to have a “domestic violence advocate” removed from Counsel’s table, or to not allow them to give advice to the alleged victim.
4. There is a belief that where domestic violence has been alleged, it is best to keep the parties separated. Courts will pressure the accused to enter into voluntary agreements (albeit without any findings of fact), to vacate their home, to “stay away” from the accuser, and to leave their children.

We at Shechtel and Associates, P.A., know how to defend allegations of domestic violence. We know the legal standards. We know what the necessary evidence is for obtaining a domestic violence protection order. We know how to expose allegation inconsistencies, motivations to fabricate the truth, and what you need to do to defend yourself.

Are domestic violence cases expensive, and if so, why?

Yes, the typical domestic violence case is expensive, all things considered equal. The way they are expensive is because in the typical domestic violence case:

a.   Things move fast, really fast.

i.    If there is an interim domestic violence protection order, within 24 hours there must be a hearing for the issuance of a temporary domestic violence protection order.
ii.    Within seven (7) days following the issuance of a temporary domestic violence protection order, a hearing/trial must be held for the issuance of a Final Domestic Violence Protection Order.

b.    The risks are very high. The court upon entering a Final Domestic Violence Protection Order has the power to Order:

i.    You out of your home;
ii.   Use and possession of family use personal property, including your car;
iii.  Family maintenance;
iv.   You to attend counseling of any kind or nature;
v.    Custody of your children;
vi.    Access rights for you to see your children;
vii.   any other form of injunctive relief that the Court deems necessary or appropriate.

c.    There is collateral damage. Once a Final Domestic Violence Protection Order is entered against you:

i.    All firearms are seized by the Sheriff. You may never see them again.
ii.    ADR/Mediation in your case may be suspended. This increases the cost of your divorce and any custody or access issues that involve your children.
iii.    You could be restricted to having only limited or supervised access with your children. You could also be banned from attending school functions, including plays, recitals, sporting events, and more.
iv.    Your employer could be served with notice that you are the subject of a Domestic Violence Protection Order. If you have a security clearance, you could lose it. If you have to carry a gun as a condition of your employment (police, security guard, etc.) you may lose your job because you will no longer be allowed to carry a firearm.
v.    You could face criminal charges in court.
vi.    Your spouse may tell your children that you are a dangerous person (see parental alienation under the custody and access section of this website).
vii.    If your spouse is awarded custody of the children, the Circuit Court will rarely upset that award of custody Pendente Lite. As a result, you will be the underdog when final custody merits are heard… about a year or more later.
viii.    You could be forced to stay away from anywhere your spouse may be, such as fitness clubs, Church, recreation centers, or even a family event (such as a wedding or funeral).

We were Counsel in a case where a wife/mother filed for a domestic violence protection order. The Petition was denied. Twenty four (24) hours later, the wife/mother filed a second (false) petition for domestic violence protection. A different Judge granted her a temporary domestic violence protection order. Upon entry of the Order, the wife absconded with the parties infant child and fled the state. All in all, the wife filed a total of four (4) (false) domestic violence petitions, all of which we successfully defended.

We have been involved in many cases where a wife, immediately after the entry of a (false) temporary domestic violence protection order, emptied the marital home of everything she wanted. In a particularly bitter case, the wife throughout the husband’s clothes stole his golf clubs and literally destroyed whatever property she could not pack into her car.

So the lessons to be learned here, never ever allow yourself to become a “victim” of domestic violence, as an accused or accuser. Everyone loses in domestic violence. There are no winners. The best defense is to avoid the situation altogether.

The cold hard truth is, following a claim of domestic violence, your entire divorce or custody case could essentially be decided in seven quick days. This is no lie. No matter what anyone else may tell you if you have been accused of domestic violence, you are in an extremely precarious situation that mandates you obtain the assistance of an attorney who knows domestic violence. Every minute that you hesitate in hiring an attorney prejudices your case.

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