Georgia – Protective Orders for Unsafe Parents
In some situations involving divorce and family law cases in Georgia, it may be necessary to acquire a twelve month protective order, temporary protective order, also commonly referred to as a “TPO” to protect a child from a parent or other person who poses a significant danger or immediate threat to the safety or well-being of the child. It is the duty of all parents and care givers to ensure that a child is not placed in harm’s way and in cases where a child is intentionally placed in harm’s way or is threatened, harassed, or abused it is necessary for that child to be protected from the individual conducting such activities.
It is also advisable to hire an experienced family law / divorce attorney to help guide you through the Temporary Protective Order process – as a hearing will be held on the matter shortly after the initial filing of the case. Also, further issues such as supervised visitation (if any) and child support may be decided at the protective order hearing.
A TPO can be warranted in a large variety of situations concerning abuse either emotional or physical, threats / terroristic threats / threats to harm the child, neglect, and drug use in the child’s presence that places the child at risk.
In many situations a parent’s use of illegal or legal substances, alcohol, prescription medication, or illegal drug use leads to the abuse of the child or causes the care taker to neglect or abuse the child. All of these previously mentioned factors should be thoroughly examined and warrant for the child to be protected from the actions of that individual and to cease all contact with that individual. Other living conditions that are considered unhealthy for the child may also constitute reasons for obtaining a TPO and contacting child protective services for an investigation. Living conditions that are deemed hazardous, lack of running water and toiletry needs, unreasonable punishments in the living environment, dirty living environment, may also be taken into consideration in the DFCS evaluation – via home study. An example may be as simple as a parent chronically smoking in close proximity to a child that is known to have reactive airway disease or asthma even though they know such exposure can cause the child significant harm and has repeatedly caused the child to be admitted to the hospital for breathing problems and asthma attacks. Any unsafe or harmful actions taken by any person caring for the child can be taken into consideration and may warrant protection of the child from the individual. It is imperative that you contact the DFCS office in which the perpetrator lives and file for the TPO in the county in which the defendant lives.
In Georgia, a TPO may be filed by any of the following relationships: Step parents and step child, parent and child, past spouse and child, foster parent, and foster child, live in boyfriend / girlfriend and child.
A TPO will also require a recent act of family violence that places the child at immediate risk of safety or life. During the Ex Parte Initial hearing the minor child and a supporting caretaker or other parent can present their case to support their request for TPO. Once the TPO is initially granted the respondent will have the ability to present their side of the case and to defend themselves from the accusations. Once granted the TPO will ensure that the respondent maintain a particular distance away from the child in their school home and public, to cease all contact, suspend visitation, and to stay away from the child. The TPO is designed to protect the child in this case from the abusive person and will suspend all visitations or contact with that person. Also, if it is believed that such activities are taking place and there is substantial evidence – then it is the responsibility of another caregiver to report the activity and the substantial evidence supporting the claim to the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS). DFCS will then investigate the claims and will assist you in filing for a TPO via an Ex Parte Petition for domestic violence. Again, a hearing will be scheduled shortly after the court issues the TPO.
False Accusations and Abuse of the TPO Process
In some cases individuals in high conflict situations may use the DFCS and TPO processes as a form of harassment and alienation against another parent or care taker of a child. In the past this was readily documented by psychologist as an action taken by custodial parents against non-custodial parents in an attempt of revenge against the other parent or to alienate the child from the other parent. However, there is a developing trend by non-custodial parents to implement similar hostile legal tactics in order to alter changes in custody and as an attempt to harass, threaten, and intimidate the custodial parent.
If you are falsely accused of abuse, neglect, threats, or harassment of a child and have been served with legal paper work issuing a hearing for a TPO then it is important and necessary to obtain legal counsel immediately.
You will be issued a court hearing date within 7 days and will need legal representation prior to your court date as a TPO may have legal and reputation consequences that can impact your terms of custody and contact with your children. Hiring an attorney for your protection may influence the falsely accusing parent to dismiss the case or recant their previous testimony; as well as, defending you against their other claims during the other portion of the case. For your defense you will need to provide beyond reasonable doubt that the other parent is doing so for the purpose of alienation and malicious action as opposed to their claims of abuse, neglect, threats, etc. being true. If it is found by DFCS that the claims were false or unsubstantiated and the person responsible for the claim is identified then that person can be civil sued for harassment and other malicious actions in court actions brought by the respondent of the TPO. One should never seek a TPO or DFCS support on the basis of false claims as such actions if proved to be false and malicious can result in a modification of visitation and/or custody with the falsely accusing parent.