Domestic violence crosses all lines of social and economic segments of society. It is characterized by one person using physical, emotional, economic, or sexual abuse to exert power and control over another individual.
In Michigan, domestic violence is a crime. Unfortunately, many victims are afraid or embarrassed to discuss their situation. However, all too often a victim's inaction toward the abuse is the safest strategy at the time.
This firm first determines a client's risk by utilizing specific questioning to discover whether abuse is a part of the relationship with a domestic partner. When there is an indication that a client may be in danger, the client is assisted by obtaining a personal protection order and a safety plan to avoid danger resulting from contact with the abuser.
Of equal importance is assessing how domestic abuse in a household may affect children. Abusers maintain control of the victim and the family members by abusing their victims in the presence of the children; interrogating children about the victim's activities; removing a child to prevent the victim from fleeing; threatening to harm the child; or by encouraging the child to participate in the abuse against the victim.
Personal protection orders are entered by the family division of the county courts to restrain an abuser who is either a spouse, a former spouse, an individual with whom the victim has had a child in common, an individual with whom the victim has had a dating relationship, or an individual residing or having resided in the same household from doing 1 or more of the following:
- Entering onto premises.
- Assaulting, attacking, beating, molesting, or wounding the victim.
- Threatening to kill or physically injure the victim.
- Removing minor children from the individual having legal custody of the children, except as otherwise authorized by a custody or parenting time order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.
- Purchasing or possessing a firearm.
- Interfering with the victim's efforts to remove the victim's children or personal property from premises solely owned or leased by the person to be restrained.
- Interfering with the victim at the victim's place of employment or education or engaging in conduct that impairs the victim's employment or educational relationship or environment.
- Having access to information in records concerning a minor child of both the victim and abuser that will inform the abuser about the address or telephone number of the victim and the victim's minor child or about the victim's employment address.
- Engaging in conduct that is forbidden by the criminal domestic violence laws
- Any other specific act or conduct that imposes upon or interferes with the victim's personal liberty or that cause a reasonable apprehension of violence.
Attorneys handling divorce or other domestic relations matters should have specialized training to recognize and be sensitive to the client in an abusive relationship. This firm has extensive domestic violence training. Ms. Smith worked in a domestic violence shelter as a social worker. When interviewing clients, domestic abuse is taken seriously. The foremost concern is for the client's safety.
At the time a victim attempts to exit from an abusive relationship, the perpetrator feels more vulnerable and escalates the abuse. It is at this time, that safety planning on the part of an attorney is critical. Any request for a personal protection order MUST be preceded by a safety plan for the victim/client and minor children who may also be involved.
Of particular concern is the recognition that where abuse is present in a domestic relationship, the case may not be appropriate for alternative dispute resolution processes. There is an imbalance of power; the abuser needs to control and dominate the process, the victim, and the parties' children; the victim's safety is a concern; and often the victim is eager to agree out of fear, manipulation and desperation. All of these problems may result in "settlements" that are not in the victim's or minor children's best interests. The Michigan legislature recognized this situation and mandated in the Michigan Rules of Court that a court must hold hearing before assigning such matters to mediation.
This firm realizes that abusers exhibit multiple abusive behaviors and without deeper questions, the client's true situation may not be determined. We routinely use a screening questionnaire entitled: "Screening for Domestic Violence and Child Abuse: Divorce and Child Custody Mediation", published in 2001 by the Michigan Judicial Institute. Answers to this series of questions aid in accurately assessing each client's specific situation.
The definition of physical abuse may seem obvious to most people, but often victims refuse to view the abuser's behavior as physical violence. Victims often acknowledge being slapped, pushed or hit, but then often blame themselves. When clients are asked: "What do you think would happen to your partner if he or she exhibited this exact same behavior toward a colleague in the work place?" Framing the same incident in this way usually puts the abuser's behavior in perspective for the client. The client recognizes that the behavior would result in a firing and/or an arrest. This reality allows a victim to realize the criminality of the behavior when exhibited toward others.
Physical abuse includes pushing, shoving, kicking, slapping, biting, strangling, hitting, punching the victim; locking the victim out of the house; failing to assist the victim during illness, injury or pregnancy; using a weapon against the victim; refusing the victim ingress or egress by physical force; throwing objects at the victim; spitting at the victim; forcing the victim out of a moving car; or abandoning the victim in a dangerous situation.
Sexual abuse includes forcing the victim to have sex or watch sexual acts; forcing the victim to perform sexual acts; forcing performance of sexual acts on the victim; forcing the victim to dress in a sexually provocative manner against the victim's comfort level; forcing the victim to have sex after a physical assault; forcing the victim to engage in sex when the victim is ill; or forcing the victim to engage in sex as a condition of the relationship.
Emotional abuse can occur when the abuser threatens harm to the victim, the victim's family, or the victim's pets; driving recklessly with the victim and the children in the car; ridiculing of the victim's beliefs, race, heritage, class, religion, body, sexual orientation; manipulation of the victim through deceit or contradictions; convincing the victim that he or she is to blame for the abuser's actions; stalking the victim; calling the victim names; embarrassing the victim; exhibiting extreme jealousy; quick temper; using the silent treatment; withholding or omitting information; or even pretending to be the victim. Isolation is another method an abuser uses to exercise power and control over the victim. Abusers often control the victim's access to friends, family, telephone use and/or transportation.
Economic abuse may include the abuser denying access to bank accounts, credit cards, or the use of a vehicle; the abuser controlling all of the finances; preventing the victim from getting or keeping a job or from going to school; limiting the victim's access to medical attention, dental attention or prescriptions.
In public, abusers may appear as charming, polite and pleasant individuals. They are completely different people when alone with their victims. Batterers or abusers cannot be readily identified and they are not easily reformed. This learned behavior pattern cannot be broken without extensive professional mental health intervention and education. Victims also need support and assistance to break the cycle of violence.
PLEASE: If you are reading these pages and are a victim of domestic violence, call National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233(SAFE) OR 1-8007873224(TTY) 24 hours a day, seven days a week for information about the domestic violence program in your area. It is confidential and free.