Truth is often elusive in parental disputes


Dear John,

I was just served by the sheriff with a protection order. My ex-wife is claiming that I yelled at her when I picked up the kids and that she and the children fear me. She is bringing up a lot of stuff that happened years ago. The papers say she is asking the court to not allow me to see my kids for at least a year. My kids mean the world to me. I think she is just trying to use the kids as a pawn. What can I do?


Scared Scott

Dear Scott,

Domestic violence is an insidious crime. Legislators, law enforcement, mental health workers, health care providers, educators, judicial officers and citizens are all trying to solve this damaging social scourge.

Domestic violence is defined as a physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent harm, injury or assault, between family or household members. This includes former family members.

I don't know the details of the accusations made or the intention behind them. What I do know is that there are several versions of the story and the "true" one may never be known. The description you provide suggests her claim is relying upon, "infliction of fear of imminent physical harm" as the basis.

People have a right to be free of fear of imminent harm. This right is deemed so fundamental that injury has the potential to bring criminal charges. This right was only recently extended to include physical harm to family members. Much of our history included the right to "discipline" family through beatings.

However, as you suggest, there is always the possibility someone will try to use an accusation as a weapon rather than a shield. This is harmful in that it strains limited police and judicial resources and also has lasting, damaging ramifications.

Because law enforcement is designed to deal with emergent problems, it is ill-suited to ferret out legitimate accusations from the illegitimate. The judiciary assumes this role.

The judiciary is charged with making decisions affecting the lives of people with. It must rely upon information presented and is somewhat prevented from requesting information.

To solve this dilemma, the courts proceed cautiously. There is a desire to maintain the status quo. It looks for the potential for imminent harm and attempts to prevent it. This translates to a tendency to keep protection orders in place.

While I understand that this is dis-heartening information, I want to try to give you hope. While people have a fundamental right to be free from fear of imminent harm, they also have a fundamental right to parent. This means courts will often try to work to maintain ties between parents and children. The form of those ties may be modified or limited depending on the situation.

I hope this helps,


John Hartzell is a Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only. Have question? Ask John at


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