Obtaining a Restraining Order

The theme of my second novel, The Sheriff’s Wife, is domestic violence (DV) and abuse. While writing, I do extensive research.

As a board member for Human Options, a non-profit dedicated to ending domestic violence and abuse, I was invited to accompany a Human Options attorney, the Chief Development Officer, and two new employees to observe the process of obtaining a restraining order.

We met at 8:30 a.m. at the Family Courthouse in Santa Ana, California. The architect who designed the facility did so without thinking about the safety or security of the visitors. The entrance to the six-story structure is an open courtyard—there’s no conversational areas, no plants–just an unobstructed area the size of half a football field. And the six-story building is designed around an inside patio, where all of the interior walls are made of glass. Someone on the second floor can see people milling around on each level, and vice versa.

If I were a victim of DV and wanted to avoid my perpetrator, there’s little space that offers protection (other than the bathrooms).

Upon entry, we went through a security screening—similar to an airport’s—where purses, briefcases, and anything electronic—cellphones, watches, etc. were placed in gray containers and scanned. When I walked through the metal detector, I set it off. Surprised, I realized I’d forgotten to remove my iWatch.

The courtroom we visited was on the first floor, across from Board Docket.

The room was surprisingly small and seated twenty-five on each side of the aisle. Inside the wood-gated area were two Orange County Sheriff deputies in full uniform including protective vests, guns, batons, tasers, handcuffs, etc., a bailiff, a court recorder, and the judge, who sat on a raised platform.

The courtroom in the picture below is larger; however the concept is the same with one long table with seating for the plaintiff, their attorney, the defense attorney, and the defendant.

Again, if I were a victim, I’d feel very uncomfortable with the close proximity of my abuser.

The judge entered at 9:00 a.m. The mid-forties woman had big blue eyes and shoulder-length curly blond hair—an unruly style that appeared more suited for a rock star than a judge.

Exhibiting a kind, no-nonsense attitude, she called out thirty case numbers to determine who was present, and which dockets she’d hear.

We witnessed four cases. However, for the purposes of brevity, I’ve decided to share two.

The first case involved a middle-aged man in a business suit who appeared by himself (without counsel). The judge read his request, and said, “I don’t see any evidence of violence. Why are you requesting a restraining order?”

“It’s for my daughter, your honor,” he said sadly.

“What’s wrong with your daughter?” she asked.

“She’s on drugs.”

The judge winced. “You can have a restraining order for up to five years. Is that what you want?”

“Three years, your honor. We also have a special needs child at home.”

Oh, the poor father. I can’t imagine having a drug-addicted daughter and caring for a special needs child.

“Granted,” the judge said.

“Thank you, your honor.” As if he were carrying the weight of the world, his shoulders slumped and he walked away.

As he passed by, my heart fell. Full disclosure: my first novel shows both sides of the drug debate, and the theme is legalizing drugs. Not because I believe in easy access—just the opposite. If drugs are controlled like alcohol and tobacco, then they’d be more difficult to obtain. I couldn’t help but wonder if treating drug addiction as a sickness rather than as criminal behavior would help his daughter.

The second case involved stalking from an immature seventeen-year-old who was terrifying his nineteen year-old ex-girlfriend. Her restraining order was granted, and she was visibly relieved.

The third case involved parental visitation, as did the fourth case, which I found particularly intriguing.

A nicely dressed middle-aged Asian couple were separated and had two children, ages 8 and 10. The husband had a criminal complaint filed against him, and they were in family court to decide if he’d be allowed to see his children.

We never learned the nature of the criminal complaint. However, when the judge mentioned the complaint, I jumped to the conclusion that the father had probably been violent, and harbored ill-will.

“What do you want?” the judge asked him.

“I miss my children, your honor. I want to see them.” Dressed in a business suit, he wrung his hands, appearing nervous.

“What do you think?” The judge asked the mother.

“My children are crying because they miss their father. I want them to see him.”

Hmm. It sounded as if the kids genuinely liked their dad.

“How often would you see your children?” the judge asked the father.

“Every day. I picked them up from school at 4:30, feed them dinner, helped them with their homework, and then took them home.”

Whoa. He sounded like the primary caregiver.

“How often do you want to see them now?” she asked.

“Every day, your honor.”

The judge questioned the wife, “What would you like?”

“He can see them every day,” she said, allowing full access.

After a few more questions, the judge determined that the wife wanted the father to have the children all weekend, too.

The judge granted the father weekday visitation rights, and the wife seemed relieved.

Then the judge ruled the father would have the kids on Saturdays, and the wife would have them on Sundays.

The husband lowered his head as if he were disappointed. The wife frowned and squirmed in her chair.

After observing the parents, I liked him more than her. His persona was mild-mannered, and I wondered what the criminal complaint was: perhaps it didn’t involve violence, like I’d initially assumed. I had the impression the judge’s ruling was a mandate for the mother to spend time with her children.

Then I reminded myself that often abusers are master manipulators. Still, I didn’t detect a meanness or harmful demeanor from the father.

When the case ended, it was 10:00 a.m., and the judge adjourned for recess.

I wondered how the judge managed to deal with these situations on a regular basis without getting burned out. I liked her, admired her, and after one hour, I felt empathy for her.

As we left the courtroom, an overwhelming sense of gratitude filled me–which has stayed with me. Having grown up in an abusive environment, I said a little prayer of thanks for the many blessings I enjoy.

Thanks for reading. (And you’re welcome to share my blogs.)

Warmest Regards,                                                                                                                                            Michele

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