Normally, Utah civil and criminal law remain two different divisions. But there is a certain sector of Utah law where — unfortunately — family and criminal law sometimes intersect. That point of confluence occurs when domestic violence allegations are made by either spouse in a divorce or custody action.
When divorce gets ugly
Without negating any of the trauma suffered by domestic violence survivors, it’s important to note that a very small percentage of spouses going through divorces attempt to manipulate the system to their advantages by making false or specious claims of domestic abuse against their soon-to-be exes.
When this occurs, divorce cases that had been chugging along uneventfully in the Utah civil court system suddenly take unexpected detours into the criminal law division.
If that has happened to you — or if you even remotely suspect that it could occur — you need to take immediate action to protect your reputation, rights to custody of or visitation with minor children, and even your very freedom.
Divorce and custody issues, and minefields of contested divorces
Divorce can be a triggering event for many couples. People tend to be at their worst during this time. Some may stay in perpetual attack mode because the fabric of their lives is being riven whether they like it or not. When tempers flare and people lash out, they may act irresponsibly and inflict physical damage to their partners.
Domestic violence doesn’t always have to be physical for someone to wind up facing charges. Simply threatening acts of violence can be enough to get yourself arrested. If your spouse has recordings (either oral or written, e.g. voice mail messages, texts or emails) or has witnesses willing to testify that they saw or heard you hurt or threaten your spouse, you could wind up in some uncomfortably hot water.
Think back to a really big blowout in which you and your spouse were involved. How heated did it get? Did either one of you intimidate or bully the other with threats . . . or cross over the line and get a little “handsy” even if there were no marks? If the answer is yes, you could be served with a protective order by sheriffs’ deputies.
Why defending yourself from protective orders is paramount
As Class A misdemeanors, domestic violence charges become part of your criminal record. If the order is allowed to stand, it can negatively impact your life in many different ways. Because these orders may be issued ex parte, where only the alleged victim and/or the alleged victim’s attorney appears before a judge, your defense needs to begin immediately.
Ex parte orders can remain in effect for up to 20 days. Meanwhile, you may be forced from your home or possibly even your job if the two of you work together in some capacity. You might be barred from seeing your children at school or at home, with a copy of the order being sent to each school where a minor child is enrolled.
You will definitely be barred from contacting your spouse by any means. Your spouse may be awarded temporary sole custody of the kids, with all visitation suspended. Even your Second Amendment rights are at risk when you are constrained by a protective order.
Why get two attorneys if one is sufficient?
Many family law practitioners have no criminal law experience. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean that you could have to shell out two sets of legal retainers or face serious disadvantage in the criminal court system.
However, by choosing an attorney who litigates both criminal and family law cases, you can rest assured that your rights are protected.