Domestic violence often plays role in divorce

Domestic Violence - fist on surface with textOne-in-four women and one-in-seven men will become victims of severe violence during their lifetimes.

Every minute 20 people become victims of intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statistics are staggering and all too familiar, particularly in cases involving divorce where emotions run high.

Such was the case in the marriage of Robert and Sarah Ardis that recently came before the First District Court of Appeal . Robert Ardis appealed a lower court order that found him in indirect criminal contempt arising from allegations that he violated a 2009 protection against domestic violence that resulted in a 30-day jail sentence.

The case went as follows:

Toward the end of the couple’s marriage in 2009, Sarah Ardis asked for and received court-ordered domestic violence protection from her husband. Among other things, the order limited Mr. Ardis’ communications with his ex to “civil and courteous contact” to discuss issues involving their children. The couple was to comply with the order until their divorce was finalized in court.

However, a couple of months later, Sarah Ardis filed petitions in February and May 2010 alleging that her ex had violated the domestic violence order by parking too close to her car at the college where he worked, and that she attended, and that he had come within 500 feet of her home.

Unfortunately, the petitions remained dormant for more than two years with no action. In October 2012, the court entered a final order on the dissolution of their marriage.

A few months after the divorce was finalized, Sarah Ardis filled yet another petition alleging that her ex had again violated the domestic violence order by sending abusive and insulting texts to her.

In March 2013, the court issued an order to show cause relating to, not only that petition, but also to the other two that had been filed in 2010. However, the state attorney said it would only pursue the charges relating to the 2013 incidents and the court dismissed the 2010 claims.

Several months later, the state decided to move ahead and prosecute Mr. Ardis under all three petitions. The court then found him guilty of willful violations of the domestic violence order – one stemming from the February 2010 incident and the other from the more recent January 2013. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Mr. Ardis argued that (a) the judgment was based partly on charges that had previously been dismissed and (b) the 2013 charges should be reversed because his texts to his ex-wife happened after they were divorced and that the previous domestic violence order stated it would stand until an order was entered in their Dissolution of Marriage action. In other words, once the divorce was finalized the domestic violence order would lapse.

The state agreed that the trial court should not have based part of its ruling on allegations from the 2010 claim of domestic violence because that petition had been dismissed. However, it urged the appellate court to affirm the judgment and the 30-day sentence for the 2013 petition.

The appellate court disagreed: “We cannot agree to affirm based on the 2013 petition because those contempt charges were based on a (domestic violence) order that had lapsed,” the court wrote. “Because the DV order at issue here did not clearly require continued compliance with its courteous conduct provision after the court entered the DOM order, we can not affirm the criminal contempt judgment and sentence entered based upon willful violation of that order.”

Unfortunately, as appears to be in this case, the justice system doesn’t always work as expeditiously as we would like. Sarah Ardis’ 2010 domestic violence claim lay dormant for two years. It’s unclear, from the appellate court ruling why this occurred.

If you are the victim of domestic violence it’s imperative that you contact qualified counsel immediately to determine your rights and to ensure that you are protected.

Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation

Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

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