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Fear

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he isAs a noun, fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  As a verb, to “be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”  Fear can be a huge motivator to either do, or NOT do, a particular thing.  Sometimes fear is based in reality; sometimes, just in the perception of reality.  Fear can be crippling, can prevent one from taking necessary, reasonable action, or can motivate one to take actions that are unreasonable, dangerous, or out of proportion to the circumstances.

So what does that have to do with the law?

Family law actions are emotional things.  While the divvying up of assets, assignment of debts, allocation of custody and parent time, and awards of child support and alimony are black and white things, underlying the entire process is a mess of emotions, largely unpleasant ones.  Anger, pain, rage, desperation, panic, despair, sadness, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness….Swirling in with that horrible mix is Fear.

Fear is a huge part of any major life change….fear of the unknown–what happens with my budget when I’m limited to x amount of dollars a month?  What happens to my retirement goals when I have to pay out x dollars a month?  Why should I have to pay money to this person who is hurting me?  When will I get to see my kids?  What if my ex makes my kids hate me?  How will I pay all the expenses I need to for my kids?  What if I can’t pay the rent on this child support/alimony amount?  How am I supposed to get a job and take care of my kids at the same time? Who’s gonna hire me???  Is anyone ever gonna want to be with me again????

I would suggest that much of the reason people behave irrationally, do dumb things, say dumb things, try to avoid legal action, or any of the thousands of different ways people end up hurting themselves in family cases is out of fear:  “If I avoid the process server, they can’t serve me, and this will all go away.”  “He said there’s a warrant out for my arrest if I try and show up to court….I can’t get arrested!”

Mark Twain CourageWhile legal proceedings can be scary, the best way to deal with them is through Knowledge.  Be proactive–don’t wait until the last minute to seek legal advice.  If you’re scared about a threat made by the Other, ASK someone who knows or can find out about whether there’s any truth to the threat.  If you married a bully, be ready to deal with a bully.  Is it scary?  Hell YES it is.  But avoiding it, hiding, pretending it’s not happening, remaining willfully ignorant will do more to hurt you in the long AND short run than squaring your shoulders and addressing the situation.

Case in point:

I got divorced in 2005.  At the time, I’d been a stay at home mom, had 4 kids, the oldest of which were 8 year old twins, and had no money to my own name other than what my husband brought in.  My marriage had come apart, and my mental health was deteriorating.  I couldn’t stay married and live.  And No, I’m not being dramatic when I say that.  I was scared to death.

So how did I handle it?

I rolled over and died, in a manner of speaking.  My husband hired a lawyer, who drafted an agreement taking everything away from me except for some really minimal bits of Stuff.  I didn’t fight to get custody of the kids I’d been primary caretaker of for their entire lives.  I didn’t even attempt to stay in my house, or get alimony, or ask for half of the rest of our marital, not-insignificant assets.  I signed my husband’s agreement.  That became the terms of my divorce, and gave him custody of my kids.

I flat out gave up.  Out of paralyzing, crippling Fear.  Everything my husband said about how miserable he’d make me if I tried to get even statutory minimums under the law for ANYTHING, I believed.  All the little demeaning, demoralizing comments he threw out at me, I believed.  I was terrified–terrified of a legal fight, terrified of my kids getting hurt any worse than they already were, terrified of losing my mind before it was all said and done…Terrified.  Scared.  Panicked.

And so, out of blind, crippling, numbing, paralyzing fear, I gave up.  Everything–my kids, my home, any portion of 10 years of marriage…all of it.  Without a fight.

Ask me how much I regret that.  And when you do, bring tissues, because I’m going to cry my eyes out on you, even though it’s been nearly 13 years since all that happened.fear-is-the-mindkiller

DON’T YOU BE LIKE ME.  You be BRAVE.  Find your support people.  Face your fears, even if you have to face them quietly, by seeking out help online, or at a victim’s crisis center.  Get real information.  Do a little research.  DON’T GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT!  For the love of all that is good and holy, I am begging you, do not let fear take your life from you.  You can do it.  I swear, it’s hard as hell, but you CAN.  And you Must.

A final Scene from the story of fear in my life:  I am at my Aunt Nancy’s house, curled up on the floor in her bathroom, sobbing out of fear and the misery that came from letting my fear cripple me when it counted most.  She is sitting next to me, on the floor, knees pulled up to her chest, her arm around my shoulders.  She is saying, “I wish I could poor courage into your spine so you can stand.”

I say to you–Imagine me pouring courage into your spine.  Stand up. You may be afraid, but don’t let it control you.  You are not alone.

Be Brave.

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More Help: Low Income Housing

I was contacted by a former client yesterday.  She is having to move from her current residence because the owner of the house has sold it.  She was absolutely panicked–like a lot of people after a divorce, her income is quite limited, and she was desperately trying to find somewhere to rent that she could afford.  Part of her problem has to do with damage her credit sustained following her divorce; the ex got the house, but fell behind on payments, and it’s destroyed her credit rating.  Anymore it’s hard to get a landlord to rent to you if your credit sucks (ask me how I know this 😦 )

affordable housing

Affordable housing…Is it a myth, or does it really just look like this?

What she wanted to know was where to go for help with housing, for those with lower incomes.  So I did some research for her, and determined that some of my other readers might need that information as well.  I am being a little lazy in this post, and have just copied and pasted my Google search results in Idaho and Utah at the bottom of this posting, but will put some specific links to housing help in my links (on the right side of the page).

This is my Google search for Idaho:

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=low%20income%20housing%20idaho

…and this is for Utah:

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=low+income+housing+Utah

Some areas have more resources that others.  That’s just the nature of the beast. Much of this is self-explanatory; I can’t give you legal advice in Idaho anyway, but I don’t have the expertise in either Idaho or Utah to really help with the process of getting assistance.  However, I am happy to point you to resources if you can’t find them. Or if you just need a bit of a pep talk, I can do that, too. 🙂

Good luck, take deep breaths, this too shall pass… You’ve got this. 😉

little house white picket fence

Because we’re all hoping for a little bit of our own American Dream.

 

 

Protective Orders–How to get one and When

*If you are currently in danger of abuse, contact your local domestic violence shelter.  In Cache Valley, Utah, that’s CAPSA.  Staff there are trained in helping victims through the protective order process.  I strongly suggest you use that resource. Y se habla español.*

Beaten Every 9 Seconds

I’ve been thinking for awhile that I needed to get an article up here about the hows and whys of protective orders.  This is in Utah, remember, so it may be a little different outside of Utah, but some of this stuff will still apply to ya’ll who are out of state, so keep reading…

Who should get one:  People who are being honest to God abused, or have a reasonable fear that they are in danger of abuse.  Physical abuse is what we’re looking for here.  If the abuser is throwing stuff at you, or breaking stuff, or abusing or threatening to abuse your pet, that would give you a reasonable fear that you are in danger of being physically assaulted.  I put that stuff in bold up there at the beginning of this paragraph because this is IMPORTANT.  DO NOT USE A PROTECTIVE ORDER TO LEVERAGE A CUSTODY AWARD OR TO CONTROL ANOTHER PERSON.  The misuse of protective orders is what takes away the value and force of one.  You cry wolf on this, and you screw it up for every other person who needs to be protected from abuse.  So DON’T.

Sexual abuse IS domestic abuse.  You CAN be sexually abused in a marriage.  Being coerced (verbally abused, harassed, threatened, etc.) to do things sexually that you don’t want to do, or being physically forced to engage in a sex act even if you are married is still rape; it’s still abuse.

Men as Victim

Men are also victims of domestic abuse…Not just women.

You don’t have to be married to get a protective order.  You don’t have to be in an intimate relationship to get one…The statute is a “cohabitant abuse” statute. If you have a roommate who’s abusive, you can get a protective order.

Also–if you are in a dating relationship with an individual who is abusive, and you feel that a protective order is the only way to stay safe and away from him or her, there is a dating relationship protective order.

The links in the paragraphs above will take you to the statutes that are the law regarding protective orders.  How Bad Get Help

HOW TO GET ONE:

Utah’s state courts website has a link on its homepage called “Protection from abuse”.  That’s the link to the page on the site…Or you can just click here.  That page has all of the forms you will need, as well as some basic instructions.  If you don’t have access to a printer or can’t download them for whatever reason, you can also get the forms from the court clerk.  Clerks are required to provide clerical assistance in filling out the forms–but not legal assistance.  They will, however, give you information on where you can get free legal info.

Fill out the forms as completely as possible.  Be detailed in describing the abuse!  I know it can be humiliating, embarrassing, demoralizing…But the court needs to be able to see exactly WHY it should give you a protective order.  DO NOT LIE.  If you haven’t been touched, but the abuser has thrown things, etc., say that.  That shows the court that  you have a reasonable fear of the abuser.

Protective Order

If you need one, seriously consider getting one.

Once you fill out the paperwork, give it to the court clerk.  The court/judge will sign an ex parte protective order if they feel that you have substantial basis to have a protective order granted.  The ex parte order is the temporary, until-a-hearing-can-be-held order.  The clerk will have the sheriff’s office serve the abuser/Respondent with the order.  It will also have a hearing date on it.  A hearing MUST be held within 2 weeks of the ex parte order being put into place.

The point of the hearing is to give the Respondent/alleged abuser an opportunity to be heard–he may not think he/she’s done anything wrong.  If the court still thinks you have reason to need a protective order, they will enter a permanent protective order.  Those stay in place for 2 years unless YOU, the Petitioner, request that it be dismissed, and can give the court good reasons you don’t need to be protected anymore.

So what if the court DOESN’T think you have a good reason to need a protective order at the start?  What if they DON’T give you an ex parte protective order?  You can still request a hearing.  HOWEVER, if you are not safe where you are with the abuser/Respondent, wait until you are before you ask for one.  The Respondent will still have to be served, and if you don’t have an ex parte protective order at that point, you may be in a bit of a dangerous position.

Stop being a victimThe court doesn’t always follow the law.  Some judges have different views on what constitutes abuse.  I had a client who had been repeatedly sexually abused by her husband.  She requested a protective order based on very detailed descriptions of the abuse.  The judge denied her request.  Why?  He handwrote this on the denial:  “Sexual contact in marriage, no matter how uncomfortable or unwanted, is not domestic abuse.”  The judge was WRONG.  Dead wrong.  My client was not in a position to request a hearing and have her husband served with it, however…So she just had to do her best to protect herself.

The system is NOT perfect.  BUT, a protective order can be part of a paper trail evidencing abuse if you need it for other legal reasons–like to get protective provisions in a divorce.  That said, you are the only one who knows what your circumstances are.  If you can’t get a protective order put in place and feel that it prevents abuse, don’t do it.  But please DO get out, get help, and stay safe.  You Are Worth It.

 

Resources

I was made aware tonight that I need to add some links to resources for those who find themselves on the “low income” end of life either during or after a divorce.  Divorces can be financially devastating, besides being an emotional beating, and there ARE some places you can turn to for help.

Utah Department of Workforce Services has resources for housing help, help paying utility bills, help buying groceries, help with medical expenses, and help finding work.  My experience with DWS has been quite positive (who knew a lawyer would ever need foodstamps??)  They were considerate, kind, and pointed me in the direction of the resources I qualified for.  And honestly, knowing that I wouldn’t have to worry about how I’d feed my kids when they were with me was a HUGE load off of my mind.  Swallow your pride.  Do what you need to do, and remember:  This is Temporary.

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition offers links/information regarding temporary housing for victims of domestic abuse in the state of Utah who need to LEAVE their current living circumstances immediately for their own safety.  But beyond just providing housing, local shelters also have information regarding resources for housing help, help getting money to pay for schooling to improve your job skills, and counseling, if you need it (and we DO need it sometimes to get our heads back on straight and give us confidence to move forward).  Abuse is not just physical (welcome to my world.)  And the emotional toll it takes can be devastating.  Use the resources that are there.  Put yourself in a position to help yourself.

If you don’t want to go into a shelter to get housing information, in Cache Valley/northern Utah check out Bear River Association of Governments housing assistance (BRAG) for help getting into more affordable housing.  There are waiting lists, but don’t be scared by that.  Be proactive; it can only help.

In the Cache Valley area, Bear River Health can provide immunizations and other health tests for a significantly reduced cost (or free, if you qualify).  Check them out if your kids need pre-K shots, or for basic wellness help.  Just about every area of the country offers health department aid to low income folks (I utilized Idaho’s District 7 Health Department for a significantly reduced rate well-woman check when I was living in southeast Idaho with my folks, was making very little money, and had no insurance.)

For assistance with food, contact the Cache County Food Pantry.  Or to donate.  Life is a lot easier to handle if your and your family’s basic needs are met.

This is not the End All, Be All of lists for finding help after/during a divorce.  If you have information regarding other agencies/organizations that assist people who are going through hard times please let me know.  Put links or names in the Comments section, and I’ll get them added.

And finally:  I don’t know how long it will take until your situation improves.  Mine has been so-so….It’s gotten much better recently :).  But we’re talking about a DECADE out from my divorce.  It’s still a struggle, in part because I’m still kind of emotionally bruised.  But remember this:  Once you’ve pulled yourself up, even if just a little, turn around and HELP another.  Even if it’s just by pointing them to this little blog posting with links to places help can be found.  Or just by providing a little emotional/moral support when another is feeling like she/he is being beaten to pieces.

YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You Can Do It!!

You Can Do It!!

Cohabitant Abuse in Utah: “They don’t DO gays.”

[**Note:  I post this story with permission from my client, whose name and the name of the other party have been changed to protect my client’s privacy.  I’ve left out jurisdictional identifiers for the same reason. The picture that accompanies this post actually IS my client.  I saw the photos of her injuries prior to meeting her.  I did not recognize her when I met her from seeing this/the other pictures, and felt that no one else would either.]

I recently finished up my second non-prosecutorial criminal case.  My client, who we’ll call Beth, had been cited for domestic violence assault as a result of an altercation with her girlfriend, who we’ll call Sue.  Yes, you read that right:  my client was in a homosexual relationship where there was domestic violence.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .

My client retained me after being cited in this case.  What happened was this:  Beth had had previous interactions with Sue, her girlfriend, that indicated to her that Sue was trying to exert control over her.  Sue had already been verbally abusing Beth, but had never struck her.  On the day of the incident, back in November of 2010, Sue had started arguing with Beth in their bedroom about Beth’s 14-year old son.  The argument escalated, and Beth tried to leave the room and the argument.  Sue became angry and blocked the doorway.  Beth, who is 7 inches shorter than Sue, and was outweighed by 30 pounds, tried to duck under Sue’s arm.  Sue pushed her back, and then began punching Beth in the head.  Beth felt 2 blows before she was knocked to the floor.  Sue jumped on top of her, straddling her, and began punching her in the head and face.  At this point, Beth’s 14 year old son came into the room, screaming for Sue to get off of his mom.  Sue jumped up and ran out of the room, and then immediately called the police, claiming that Beth had assaulted her.

When the police officer arrived, he met a calm Sue outside the house.  There were some scratches on her chest, and her t-shirt was torn slightly at the collar.  Sue told him that Beth had scratched her and kicked her, and admitted to punching Beth, but just once, and just in self-defense.  Beth, in the meantime, was in a state of shock, and did not cooperate with the officer.  At that time, all that was apparent of Beth’s injuries was a goose-egg rising out of her left temple.

What it looks like when a woman’s girlfriend beats the hell out of her. . .And you don’t even see the height of the bump on the temple from this angle.

Not seeing a large differential in the severity of the parties’ injuries, and hearing opposing stories about what happened, he cited both Beth and Sue with domestic violence assault. (See U.C.A. § 77-36-2.2 for duties and powers of law enforcement when called to a domestic violence scene, including what to do when there are conflicting stories from the parties.)

Beth left the scene in an ambulance, and had a CAT scan immediately upon arriving at the emergency room.  As the bruising in her face developed, her eye, head, and cheek turned black from the injuries inflicted on her by Sue, her girlfriend.

Domestic violence, or cohabitant abuse, occurs anytime there is abuse between people who cohabitate–be they in a romantic relationship or just roommates. (See U.C.A. § 78B-7-102.)  The cop got it right when he issued citations for DV assault.  Whether the parties were gay or straight, they lived together, which qualifies as cohabitant abuse.  The prosecutor, on the other hand, didn’t see it the same way.  He worked a plea agreement (plea of guilty held in abeyance upon successful completion of one year probation) with Sue for simple assault–his theory was that since the homosexual relationship wasn’t recognized by the state (at that time), DV assault wouldn’t stick.  He told me this himself–in front of the cop as well, who looked at me, smiled a little, and shook his head.  I said, “It’s a cohabitant abuse statute.”  “It is,” said the cop, “which is why I cited them with dv assault.”  The prosecutor, sadly, wasn’t. . .*something* enough to see that.

You might wonder what the big deal is with calling it assault or dv assault.  Under the statute, repeated domestic violence assault convictions have enhanced penalties, as a deterrent to re-offending (see U.C.A. § 77-36-1.1).  By not prosecuting Sue on a dv charge, she will not have the enhanced penalties for future offenses, which offenses are a real possibility, given her history and personality. Further, there are statutory protections put in place to protect victims of domestic violence that are not present for victims of assault.  These protections keep the victim from being further abused, and further traumatized by the system. (See U.C.A. Title 77 Chapter 36 for the Cohabitant Abuse Procedures Act.)

It’s also a slap in the face to the actual victim in a case–regardless of whether he or she is gay or straight.  Domestic violence is not a problem that is unique to the heterosexual population, but it’s largely seen as such by law enforcement.  We had a particularly open-minded cop in our case.  He was at least willing to give the DV cite out to a same-sex couple.  That said, had Sue been a man, and had my client been assaulted by her boyfriend, chances are she would not have been cited at all.

At our first pre-trial hearing appearance, I provided the prosecutor with pictures taken of Beth’s injuries after the bruising had developed.  He was not willing to dismiss the charge, or listen to any reason concerning the statute.  We re-scheduled pre-trial for March 18th.  I called the prosecutor a week prior to the pre-trial, to see if he would be willing to dismiss based on this new evidence (and on the fact that they had absolutely NOTHING that would stand up in court to prove the city’s case against my client.)  He was unwilling to discuss at all.  We showed up at the pre-trial expecting the worst.  The prosecutor met with me prior to calling our case and told me that he was going to move to dismiss the charge–but was very quick to point out that it had nothing to do with anything I’d argued to him.  Right.

Sue showed up at the court during our appearance.  She sat herself right down behind Beth while we waited our turn.  When the judge dismissed Beth’s charge, Beth got a look at Sue’s face.  She was angry.  She left the courtroom, but lingered in the lobby.  The responding officer was again in court with us, and he told us to wait a minute before leaving, then headed out into the lobby to usher Sue out.  He came back for us, and waited with us in the lobby until Sue got into her car and actually left the parking lot.  Sue sat in her car a full 5 minutes before leaving.  I appreciated the police escort.  Sue creeped me out.  And I’d never had any actual contact with her.

My client was thrilled.  She thanked the officer, told him she understood his position.  She was very gracious.

Beth was in an abusive relationship with a man before she started living with Sue.  Law enforcement swooped in and protected her in that instance.  Not so this time.

She told me that she had been beaten by a man before, but it was nothing like what happened with Sue–Sue was utterly vicious, merciless.  She said it was absolutely staggering.  Domestic violence is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships.  The only difference between straight and gay DV is the reaction to it by law enforcement and the prosecution:  As Sue told Beth weeks before beating her black and blue, “Don’t bother calling the police for domestic violence in ________.  They don’t DO gays.”

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