As a human being, I was shocked and dismayed to read about a shooting spree at seal Beach hair salon yesterday, an unspeakably horrible crime that left eight people dead and one clinging to life. As a San Diego, North County divorce, child custody and support lawyer and mediator, I was not surprised to learn that shooter Scott Dekraai’s ex wife of three years, Michelle Dekraai, was among the slain. The situation became even clearer when I read that on Tuesday the estranged couple had been in court on a scheduling conference regarding custody of their eight-year-old son.
One thing that did cause me to raise my eyebrow was a detail in one article, a report that Ms. Dekraai had sworn out a temporary restraining order, fearing domestic violence.
Please don’t mistake me. Judging from the results, Ms. Dekraai had every reason to believe that she was in danger for her life, and under the circumstances I would advise any person in fear seek a restraining order from the court. Such restraining orders will allow the police to intervene if the restraining order is violated.
Sadly, Ms. Dekraai’s restraining order (assuming it was actually filed) did not protect Ms. Dekraai from the ravages of her ex-husband’s homicidal rage. Particularly salient is the evidence of significant premeditation, specifically, that Mr. Dekraai wore a bulletproof vest when he was arrested half an hour after the shooting.
I take several lessons from this incident, if you are considering a domestic violence restraining order.
Lesson one: consider whether a domestic violence restraining order will escalate minor postdivorce conflict into major postdivorce conflict.
While I can’t predict what will happen in your particular case, I can say in general that one isolated violent act during custody or divorce litigation is not a likely precursor for a more severe violent act. Remember the divorce proceedings are upsetting under the best of circumstances, and sometimes people will act out of character.
On the other hand, studies show that most repeated acts of domestic violence occur when the perpetrator has a history of repeated or ongoing domestic violence, ongoing child abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.
Remember, the act of filing and serving a restraining order can itself be a source of pain and frustration, which can in turn escalate conflict between divorcing spouses. Therefore, use common sense in deciding whether you are really in danger, and whether it is necessary to invoke the court’s power to restrain your coparent.
Lesson two: if you have ongoing or repeated abuse, or if your children are in danger, act decisively to seek protection.
You may have cause to believe that your ex or soon-to-be ex-spouse will hurt you. If he or she has made an extreme threat, such as murder, or if his or her behavior represents a pattern of ongoing physical or mental abuse, or circumstances would indicate that your children are in danger of harm, I recommend seeking the order, and also moving to an undisclosed location, such as a shelter or the home of a friend or family member. The law allows you to keep your location confidential from the restrained person pending the hearing.
Resources for domestic violence protection can be found on the San Diego Superior Court website. You can also find information on shelters and other help by going to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Make sure you keep a copy of your restraining order on your person at all times, and within easy access where you are staying. If you have to call the police, tell them that you have a restraining order and show them the copy. It is a criminal offense to violate the restraining order.
In cases of real danger and complicated relationships, it is often a good idea to retain counsel to represent you in these cases. However, the San Diego Superior Court does have easy do-it-yourself forms. Go to www.SDCOURT.ca.gov, and of your mouse over the family button. Go to the forum section and look for the domestic violence packets. Or, these forms can be obtained at the local Superior Court office itself. There is no filing fee to obtain a domestic violence restraining order, and you don’t need to give the restrained person advance notice.
However, I would emphasize that you should use this remedy judiciously, and make sure that you have some recent incidents of violence to put in your declaration. If you don’t really need the protection, filing restraining order will likely do more harm than good.
Wishing you a safe holiday season, I remain…
Very truly yours,