Domestic Violence and Family Court in Minnesota

January 4, 2010

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

According to the Star Tribune, Brooke Sheen wants to reconcile with her husband Charlie Sheen, even though she told police that he held a knife to her throat and threatened her. It is not uncommon for women who have made reports of domestic abuse to want to reconcile. Ms. Sheen claims that when she made the report of abuse, she was not aware that it would lead to her husband’s arrest and the subsequent order prohibiting her from contacting him.

In Minnesota, when a person is arrested for domestic violence, they are typically ordered to stay away from the alleged victim while the case is pending. Failure to obey this condition can lead to imprisonment. This criminal order is sometimes enough to protect the alleged victim, but it does nothing to adjudicate parenting time or the rights to support and property. For that, the parties must go to Family Court.

The primary vehicle for resolving these issues in Family Court is the Petition for a Domestic Abuse Order for Protection. An Order for Protection prohibits the alleged abuser from contacting the abused. The Order also prohibits the alleged abuser from entering a common house, and sets guidelines for co-parenting any common children. Some people find these guidelines and prohibitions to limit their options in ending a relationship. Often, the limitations are imposed after the shortest of hearings, without giving the parties the opportunity to fully consider the impact that the Order for Protection will have on the relationships that will continue after the intimate relationship has concluded. For example, what happens if Dad’s work schedule changes, and Mom and Dad can’t talk to each other to arrange a different time for parenting?

Many of the objectives of an Order for Protection can be served by filing an immediate divorce action and obtaining a prompt Order for Temporary Relief with restraining provisions. In Minnesota, such an Order for Temporary Relief cannot be enforced with criminal sanctions, but it is a relatively flexible mechanism to establish guidelines for co-parenting and separating the parties’ lives. It can be easily amended if the parties decide to attempt reconciliation, and with the appropriate ground rules, can protect the status quo while the parties decide whether they wish to reconcile or complete the divorce process. If the parties require more time to decide what to do, the parties can place their case on inactive status for a period of time without sacrificing any award of child support or spousal maintenance.

An attorney can advise you on the proper course of action to take if domestic abuse is an issue in your marriage.

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