Pro Bono News

Amelia Luna: A New Law to Help Domestic Violence Abuse Victims (TN) (Op-ed)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Amelia Luna: A New Law to Help Domestic Violence Abuse Victims

"When we think of domestic violence, we often picture physical abuse. But the truth is, abusive behavior within a relationship can exist in many forms.

At its core, domestic violence is an attempt by one partner to assert control over the other. It can include threats, insults, emotional manipulation, sexual coercion and a host of other behaviors. Abusers are nothing if not creative in their methods.

When a victim does manage to extricate herself or himself from an abusive relationship, the attempts at control don’t suddenly end. Abusers frequently resort to the only tool available to them to harass and punish their victim – the legal system.

As an attorney with Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands who has worked on domestic violence cases, I’m well acquainted with an often-overlooked but common tactic used by abusers – filing frivolous lawsuits that are designed to financially cripple their victim. We refer to it as “stalking by way of the courts.”

In a typical domestic violence situation, there tend to be a lot of court appearances. But if an abuser wants to harass their victim, it’s easy to add more legal proceedings than necessary. Each court date – whether filing for an order of protection, a custody hearing, a divorce filing or something else – requires a court appearance by both parties. If the victim is, for instance, a single mother who’s working, each of these court appearances requires time to be taken off work. That can translate to lost pay, additional child-care costs and, in some situations, even losing a job.

In May, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a new measure designed to put a stop to this behavior. The law – which applies to ex-spouses, former romantic partners and family members – allows a judge to hold a hearing to determine whether a person is filing abusive civil lawsuits with the intent of harassing a victim, either by exhausting their economic resources or attempting to force financial or child-custody concessions.."

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