Does Requesting a State Investigation of Your Ex-Spouse Qualify as “Stalking”?
Domestic violence allegations often come up in the context of divorce proceedings. In some cases, a judge may issue an injunction against a spouse (or former spouse) if there is credible evidence of domestic violence against the other party. At the same time, an injunction is not a weapon to be used simply because one spouse feels anxiety or concern over the other spouse’s conduct.
Appeals Court Overturns Domestic Violence Injunction Arising from Disagreement Over Children’s Schooling
A recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeals, Hart v. Griffis, demonstrates the fine-line that courts must walk when assessing these types of domestic violence allegations. This particular case involved a now-divorced couple. In 2018, the parties agreed their five children should attend a school in Gilchrist County, Florida. Shortly thereafter, however, the former wife changed her mind. Following a hearing in family court, a judge ordered the children to remain in the Gilchrist schools.
In response to this defeat, the former wife allegedly contacted the State Attorney, demanding an investigation of the former husband–who was a Florida circuit court judge at the time–for committing “fraud” in connection with the decision to have the children go to school outside of their home county. The state attorney obliged the request to investigate, but ultimately determined the former husband had done nothing wrong–Gilchrist County had policies to “accept out of county students for a variety of reasons and circumstances.”
The former wife’s actions prompted the former husband to seek a domestic violence injunction. Essentially, he maintained the former wife was “stalking” him by making a baseless fraud allegation to the state attorney. The former husband also cited numerous alleged “past incidents of assault and verbal abuse” on the part of the former wife.
A trial court granted the former husband’s petition for a domestic violence injunction. But a divided three-judge panel of the First District reversed. The majority held that while the former husband may have “suffered severe emotional distress” as a result of the former wife’s actions, she nevertheless “had a legitimate purpose” in contacting the state attorney regarding “her concerns over the children’s unlawful enrollment at a particular school.” In other words, the former wife’s actions were not “stalking,” which was a necessary pretext for a domestic violence injunction. As for the purported past acts of assault and abuse, the First District said those allegations were from four years earlier and thus “too removed in time to support the injunction.”
The dissenting judge said he would have upheld the trial court’s injunction, noting the former husband “has been under siege for many years by the former wife and that the tipping point was her campaign to destroy his professional reputation and career” via her false fraud allegations.
Speak with a Florida Child Custody Lawyer Today
It is not uncommon for divorcing parents to disagree as to where their children should attend school. But such disagreements should never escalate to the point where one parent feels the need to accuse the other of stalking or domestic violence. If you are involved in a child custody matter and need advice from a qualified Boca Raton family attorney, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a consultation.