I came across an interesting article today, which outlined a college student's efforts to amend the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Prevention Act to allow victims or potential victims of domestic violence to seek an order of protection against a non-family member in Family Court. The current status of the law is explained in the article:
Currently, New York law prohibits Family Court from issuing restraining orders unless the parties are or have been related, or have a child together. This forces people who are being stalked or threatened by others—such as their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends— to initiate an arrest and ask for a restraining order in criminal court.
A bill has been introduced by Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein of Brooklyn that would amend the current law. The reason behind the move to amend the current law was reported as follows:
“The law should reflect the times we live in,” he says. “Domestic violence is an ongoing problem in today’s society. It’s affecting a broad range of relationships, reflects more than just marital instability, and afflicts younger age groups [than when the law was enacted].” In New York State, the law states that criminal courts can issue orders of protection only in connection with a criminal proceeding, he explains. Only after an incident occurs that’s deemed severe enough to warrant protection can someone obtain an order of protection. The matter is best handled by Family Court, he believes, which should offer protection against non-family members.
Assuming that the Orders of Protection are not handed out indiscriminately, this might be a good idea for a number of reasons. It would arguably reduce the huge influx of domestic violence cases in the criminal justice system that bog down the criminal courts. Additionally, family court judges may very well be in a better position than criminal court judges to address the underlying issues that resulted in the need for an order of protection. Finally, it goes without saying that it certainly makes sense to issue an order of protection in order to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place rather than to prevent it from continuing.
However, one of the problems encountered in criminal courts at the misdemeanor level is that orders of protection are handed out like candy. And, in the typical scenario, the order of protection is granted based solely upon the complainant's version of an event for violation level offenses such as harassment. Shortly after the Order is issued, the couple, more often than not, reconciles and then gets in another fight, at which point the complainant calls the police, alleges that she was slapped or threatened, and either a felony or misdemeanor a Criminal Contempt charge is filed. After the defendant is carted off to jail, they of course reconcile yet again, and the complainant then seeks to have all charges dropped.
My hope would be that the proposed amendment might give family court judges the ability to exercise discretion when addressing these types of situations and the jurisdiction to impose conditions upon both parties, such a requiring that the couple seek counseling or that neither party may contact the other if an order of protection is granted.
Alternatively, perhaps domestic violence courts should be established across the state in order to better address the unique and complex situations presented by domestic violence.