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Tag: protective order

State v. Fowers – 2023 UT App 128 – violation of protective order

State v. Fowers – 2023 UT App 128

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,

Appellant,

v.

THOMAS FOWERS,

Appellee.

Opinion

No. 20220073-CA

Filed October 26, 2023

Fourth District Court, Provo Department

The Honorable Robert A. Lund

No. 201402484

Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey D. Mann, Attorneys for

Appellant, assisted by law student Rebecca Barker[1]

Douglas J. Thompson, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE JOHN D. LUTHY authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.

LUTHY, Judge:

¶1        Thomas Fowers’s ex-wife (Ex-Wife) is married to his adopted brother (Brother). A court issued a protective order directing Fowers not to “contact . . . or communicate in any way with [Ex-Wife], either directly or indirectly,” and not to “threaten to commit any form of violence against” her. Early one morning, Fowers called Brother’s phone three times in two minutes from an unrecognized number. The first two times, no one answered. The third time, Ex-Wife answered, and Fowers said, “You and that f***ing whore have it coming.”

¶2        Fowers was charged with violating the protective order. The district court declined to bind Fowers over and dismissed the charge, determining that there was “no evidence in the record to establish that Mr. Fowers . . . intentionally communicat[ed] either directly or indirectly to [Ex-Wife]” since “the statement itself clearly [was] directed at [Brother]” and Fowers did not tell Brother “to direct the comment to [Ex-Wife].” The State appeals, and we reverse.

BACKGROUND

¶3        Ex-Wife obtained a protective order against Fowers in August 2017. The order included a “No Contact Order” stating, “Do not contact, phone, mail, e-mail, or communicate in any way with [Ex-Wife], either directly or indirectly.” It also included a “Personal Conduct Order” stating, “Do not commit, try to commit or threaten to commit any form of violence against [Ex-Wife] . . . . This includes stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse.”

¶4        One morning in July 2020, Brother’s phone received three calls between 4:57 a.m. and 4:58 a.m. from an unrecognized number. At the time of the first call, Ex-Wife and Brother “were, of course, sleeping.” As they awoke, they thought that maybe someone was calling for help related to a wedding they were to attend that day. When Ex-Wife answered the third call, she recognized Fowers’s voice saying, “You and that f***ing whore have it coming.”

¶5        Ex-Wife reported the calls to authorities, and Fowers was charged with one third-degree felony count of violation of a protective order with a domestic violence enhancement.

¶6        The district court held a preliminary hearing on the charge. The State presented evidence that Fowers had been served with the protective order. In addition to Ex-Wife, who testified about the phone calls, the deputy who received Ex-Wife’s report testified that he had checked the number from which the calls had been made against local records and found that the number was attached to Fowers. The deputy also said that he called the number and that, when he asked to speak to Fowers, the person who answered identified himself as Fowers. Additionally, the court accepted into evidence records of three prior convictions of Fowers’s for violating this protective order and a previous protective order because those convictions were “relevant to establish under evidence [r]ule 404 both knowledge by the defendant and intention.”

¶7        After the State presented its case, the court found “that the [S]tate ha[d] not met its burden.” The court explained:

[A]lthough the direct and circumstantial evidence establishes that Mr. Fowers made the call, the number that he called was his adoptive brother’s number, not the alleged victim’s number. . . .

[And] the statement itself clearly is directed at [Brother], not at [Ex-Wife]. He say[s] “you and that f’ing whore,” meaning that he’s directing his comment toward [Brother] and not [Ex-Wife] . . . . [W]hat is glaringly missing from the record here is any statement by Mr. Fowers to [Brother] to direct the comment to the alleged victim. Therefore, there is no evidence in the record to establish that Mr. Fowers intentionally violated this order by intentionally communicating either directly or indirectly to [Ex-Wife].

Based on those findings, I find that the [S]tate has not—even drawing inferences in the light most favorable to the [S]tate— . . . establish[ed] sufficient evidence[,] and I decline to bind the charge over.

The court dismissed the charge with prejudice, and the State now appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8        The State contends that it presented evidence establishing probable cause that Fowers violated the protective order and that the district court therefore erred by not binding Fowers over. In essence, the State argues that the court applied the wrong legal standard by not viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from it in favor of the prosecution. A district court’s “decision to bind over a criminal defendant for trial presents a mixed question of law and fact and requires the application of the appropriate bindover standard to the underlying factual findings. As a result, in reviewing a bindover decision, an appellate court should afford the decision limited deference.” In re I.R.C., 2010 UT 41, ¶ 12, 232 P.3d 1040 (cleaned up). “Applying the wrong legal standard . . . will always exceed whatever limited discretion the [court] has in the bindover decision.” State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 7, 289 P.3d 444.

ANALYSIS

¶9        Our supreme court has explained that the evidentiary threshold for bindover is a low bar:

Although the guarantee of a preliminary hearing is fundamental, the evidentiary threshold at such hearing is relatively low. As we have emphasized, a showing of “probable cause” entails only the presentation of evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief that the defendant committed the charged crime. . . . To justify binding a defendant over for trial, the prosecution need not present evidence capable of supporting a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor is the prosecution required to eliminate alternative inferences that could be drawn from the evidence in favor of the defense. All that is required is reasonably believable evidence—as opposed to speculation—sufficient to sustain each element of the crime(s) in question.

State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 9, 289 P.3d 444 (cleaned up). Here, the State needed to present “evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief” that Fowers violated the protective order, id. (cleaned up), and the court was required to “view all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and . . . draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution,” State v. Clark, 2001 UT 9, ¶ 10, 20 P.3d 300 (cleaned up).

¶10 A person commits the crime of violation of a protective order if the person “(a) is the respondent or defendant subject to a protective order . . . and (b) intentionally or knowingly violates that order after having been properly served” with it. Utah Code § 76-5-108(2). A person acts intentionally “when it is his conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct.” Id. § 76-2-103(1). And a person acts knowingly “when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or the existing circumstances.” Id. § 76-2-103(2).

¶11 There is no dispute that Fowers was subject to the protective order at issue, and the State showed that Fowers was served with that protective order. Thus, the only issue before us is whether the State offered evidence supporting a reasonable belief that Fowers intentionally or knowingly violated the protective order. On this point, the State first argues that it put on evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that Fowers violated the No Contact Order portion of the protective order by “intentionally or knowingly contact[ing] Ex-Wife at least indirectly” because “[i]t was reasonable to infer that Fowers knew or intended that his contact and [message] . . . would be relayed to Ex-Wife.” The State then argues that Fowers’s statement “You and that f***ing whore have it coming” can also be reasonably interpreted as a threat of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Order portion of the protective order. We agree with each of the State’s arguments.[2]

¶12      The State put on evidence establishing probable cause that Fowers intentionally or knowingly contacted Ex-Wife at least indirectly. In State v. Fouse, 2014 UT App 29, 319 P.3d 778, cert. denied, 329 P.3d 36 (Utah 2014), this court affirmed a conviction for violation of a protective order where the defendant mailed envelopes to the victim’s sisters rather than to the victim, his estranged wife. Id. ¶¶ 4–7, 43. The victim was living with one of the sisters, and the other sister lived in the apartment next door. Id. ¶ 3. While some of the letters in the envelopes were addressed to the victim, others contained statements such as, “Please hold onto this. . . . [E]ven though I can’t send nor talk to my wife or kids[,] . . . writing sure does help.” Id. ¶ 4. Nonetheless, we reasoned that a factfinder “could readily infer that communication directed to or dealing with one’s ex-spouse, and sent to the ex-spouse’s siblings, will routinely and predictably be conveyed by the siblings to their family member.” Id. ¶ 40. And we noted, “Such an inference is particularly sound in this case, given the jury’s awareness that [the victim] and her sisters were close—in both senses of that term.” Id.

¶13 The same reasoning applies here. A factfinder could readily infer that calls Fowers placed to Brother or statements Fowers made to him would “routinely and predictably be conveyed” to Ex-Wife, Brother’s spouse, especially where a factfinder could reasonably infer that Brother and Ex-Wife were “close” “in both senses of that term.” Id. Indeed, a factfinder could infer that Fowers’s decision to call Brother just before 5:00 a.m.— a time when spouses could reasonably be assumed to be together—manifested his intent to catch Brother and Ex-Wife together. Therefore, we have no trouble concluding that the State’s evidence was sufficient to support a reasonable belief that Fowers, by calling Brother’s phone when he did, intentionally or knowingly contacted Ex-Wife directly or indirectly. Fowers did not need to explicitly direct Brother to communicate his message to Ex-Wife, and the court erred in suggesting as much.

¶14 The State also asserts that Fowers’s statement “You and that f***ing whore have it coming” can be reasonably interpreted as a threat of violence. We agree. In State v. Spainhower, 1999 UT App 280, 988 P.2d 452, this court recognized that the admittedly “vague and indirect” statement, “‘I’m going to get you,’ surely may connote a threat of bodily injury” because “among the many dictionary definitions of the verb ‘get’ are: ‘to bring to retribution, take vengeance on, KILL’ and ‘to strike with force, HIT.’” Id. ¶¶ 6– 7 (cleaned up). Likewise, the words at issue here, though perhaps similarly vague and indirect, could carry either a violent or a nonviolent meaning and must be interpreted by the factfinder in light of “the inferences to be drawn from the context in which the words were spoken.” Id. ¶ 7. And again, at the preliminary hearing stage, a court must “view all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution.” Clark, 2001 UT 9, ¶ 10 (cleaned up). Accordingly, at this stage, the court should have interpreted Fowers’s words to be capable of conveying, in context, a threat of violence.

CONCLUSION

¶15 The protective order’s No Contact Order forbade Fowers from contacting, phoning, mailing, e-mailing, or communicating in any way with Ex-Wife, either directly or indirectly. Its Personal Conduct Order forbade him from threatening violence against Ex-Wife. Plainly there is “reasonably believable evidence—as opposed to speculation—sufficient to” show that Fowers violated one or both of these provisions. State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 9, 289 P.3d 444. By not viewing the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the State—and instead requiring a statement by Fowers to Brother to direct the comment at issue to Ex-Wife—the district court applied the wrong legal standard and exceeded “whatever limited discretion” it had in the bindover decision. Id. ¶ 7. We therefore reverse and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


[1] See Utah R. Jud. Admin. 14-807 (governing law student practice in the courts of Utah).

[2] Fowers asserts that the State did not preserve “the arguments” it now makes on appeal because the prosecutor “did not raise [them] in a way that gave the district court the opportunity . . . to address [them].” “An issue is preserved by presenting it to the trial court in such a way that the trial court has an opportunity to rule on that issue.” Vierig v. Therriault, 2023 UT App 67, ¶ 43, 532 P.3d 568 (cleaned up); see id. ¶ 44 (“Of note, issues must be preserved, not arguments for or against a particular ruling on an issue raised below. By contrast, new arguments, when brought under a properly preserved issue or theory, do not require an exception to preservation.” (cleaned up)).

Fowers is mistaken when he says that the State did not meet this preservation standard here. At the close of the preliminary hearing, the State referenced “paragraph 1 and 2 of the protective order”; identified those paragraphs as the Personal Conduct Order and No Contact Order respectively; and noted that they prohibited Fowers from “threatening [Ex-Wife] in any way” and from “communicating in any way with [Ex-Wife] either directly or indirectly.” The State then highlighted the evidence that Fowers “called the husband of [Ex-Wife] in the early morning hours when they would presumably be together and made a statement against her to [her] then husband,” which is the same evidence that the State emphasizes here. By presenting evidence and arguing below for bindover based on an alleged violation of both the Personal Conduct Order and the No Contact Order, the State gave the district court an opportunity to rule on the same questions we are now asked to rule on. So regardless of whether those questions are characterized as arguments or issues—and we express no opinion as to the proper characterization here— Fowers’s preservation argument fails.

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2022 UT App 15 – Miller v. DaSilva – protective order objections

2022 UT App 15 – Miller v. DaSilva

http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=Miller v. Dasilva20220203_20200719_15.pdf

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

LISA M. MILLER,
Appellant,
v.
AMY ELIZABETH DASILVA,
Appellee.

Opinion

No. 20200719-CA

Filed February 3, 2022

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Robert P. Faust

No. 204904364

Steve S. Christensen and Clinton Brimhall, Attorneys
for Appellant

Amy Elizabeth Dasilva, Appellee Pro Se

JUDGE DIANA HAGEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES
GREGORY K. ORME and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER concurred.

HAGEN, Judge:

¶1        A final judgment on a petition for a cohabitant abuse protective order cannot be entered based on a commissioner’s recommendation until the parties are afforded their statutory right to object. If a timely objection is filed, the objecting party is entitled to a hearing before the district court. In this case, once the commissioner recommended that the protective order be denied and the case dismissed, a final order was immediately entered and the petitioner’s timely objection was subsequently denied without a hearing. Because a final judgment was entered before the time for filing an objection had passed and without holding a hearing on the objection, we vacate the final judgment and remand to the district court to hold the required hearing.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Lisa Miller petitioned the district court for a cohabitant abuse protective order against her former friend and tenant, Amy Dasilva. A temporary protective order was issued, and a hearing was scheduled before a commissioner. At the conclusion of the hearing, the commissioner made the following findings:

I cannot find that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that Ms. Da[s]ilva has been stalking Ms. Miller. And I cannot find a fear of ongoing physical harm.[1] And, therefore, I am going to respectfully dismiss the protective order.

A minute entry reflected that the “Commissioner recommends” that the petition “be DENIED and this case be dismissed” because “[t]he evidence does not support the entry of a protective order.”

¶3        That same day, at the direction of a district court judge, the court clerk entered a final order that stated: “This case is dismissed. Any protective orders issued are no longer valid.”

¶4        Miller filed a timely objection to the commissioner’s recommendation, requesting an evidentiary hearing before the district court pursuant to rule 108 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The next day, the district court denied that objection on the grounds that “dismissal of a protective order . . . is not a matter that is heard by the District Court Judges under Rule 108 as it is not a recommendation of the Commissioner, but rather a final decision.”

¶5        Miller filed a timely notice of appeal.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶6        The dispositive issue before us is whether, under Utah Code section 78B-7-604(1)(f), the district court was permitted to immediately dismiss the case based on the commissioner’s recommendation and thereafter deny Miller’s objection and request for a hearing. “The proper interpretation and application of a statute is a question of law, and we afford no deference to the trial court in reviewing its interpretation.” Patole v. Marksberry, 2014 UT App 131, ¶ 5, 329 P.3d 53 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

¶7        Under the Cohabitant Abuse Act, the court may issue a protective order without notice to the other party (an ex parte protective order) if it appears from the petition “that domestic abuse has occurred” or is substantially likely to occur. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-603(1)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2020). If the court issues an ex parte protective order, it must schedule a hearing and provide notice to the respondent. Id. § 78B-7-604(1)(a). After notice and a hearing, the court may issue a cohabitant abuse protective order, which is effective until further order of the court. Id. § 78B-7-604(1)(e). If such an order is not issued, the ex parte protective order expires unless extended by the court. Id. § 78B-7-604(1)(b).

¶8 A commissioner may conduct the required hearing in cohabitant abuse cases and “[m]ake recommendations to the court.” Utah R. Jud. Admin. 6-401(1)–(2)(D). If the hearing takes place before a commissioner, “either the petitioner or respondent may file an objection within 10 days after the day on which the recommended order [is issued by the commissioner] and the assigned judge shall hold a hearing within 20 days after the day on which the objection is filed.”[2] Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7­604(1)(f).

¶9        Here, the district court denied Miller’s objection to the commissioner’s recommendation without holding a hearing. Miller argues this was a “violation of the mandate in Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-604(1)(f).” We agree.

¶10 In denying Miller’s objection, the court ruled that “dismissal of a protective order” is not a matter that can be heard by the district court under rule 108 because “it is not a recommendation of the commissioner, but rather a final decision.” Because commissioners are prohibited from making “final adjudications,” Utah R. Jud. Admin. 6-401(4)(A), we assume that the district court was referring not to the commissioner’s recommendation, but to the order dismissing the case entered at the direction of a district court judge immediately after the hearing before the commissioner. Even so, the rule expressly provides that “[a] judge’s counter-signature on the commissioner’s recommendation does not affect the review of an objection.” Utah R. Civ. P. 108(a). Once Miller filed a timely objection to the commissioner’s recommendation and a request for hearing, the district court was statutorily required to hold a hearing within twenty days. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7­-604(1)(f). The district court erred by denying the objection without holding such a hearing.

CONCLUSION

¶11 The district court did not have authority to enter a final order dismissing this case before the time for filing an objection to the commissioner’s recommendation had expired. Because Miller filed a timely objection and request for hearing, she was entitled to a hearing before the district court. Accordingly, we vacate the final judgment, reverse the district court’s order denying the objection, and remand for the district court to hold the hearing required by statute.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Does the respondent get a copy of a restraining order?

Yes, the respondent gets one, as long as the respondent can be found so that he/she can be handed, mailed, or electronically provided with a copy. Indeed, if a respondent is not provided with a copy of the restraining order (or not deemed to have been served with a copy), it can be argued that the restraining order cannot be enforced against the respondent, or at least that the respondent cannot be punished for not complying with an order of which he/she had no notice. However, remember that there are two kinds of “notice”. Actual notice and constructive notice. With constructive notice, it is possible to be “deemed” to be on notice without having any personal possession or knowledge of the notice. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

Constructive notice legal definition of constructive notice (thefreedictionary.com) 

Actual Notice legal definition of Actual Notice (thefreedictionary.com) 

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The Protective Order Deception

We all know that a protective order provides little to no substantive protection for the purported victim. The joke around the legal profession is that when a bullet, blade, bat, or fist is headed your way, just hold up the sheet of paper on which the order is printed to stop it.  

We also know that while many real victims of abuse seek protective orders for legitimate purposes, many protective orders are often sought (in my opinion most protective orders are sought) in bad faith by people to gain an ill-gotten, unfair advantage over another through a bogus protective order application. 

So if someone is truly afraid for his or her life or safety, why not have the would be protective order applicant get a gun, instead? Some real protection. Not invincibility, not even 24/7 protection, but far, far better than mere sheet of paper.  

Besides, anyone who’s truly fearing for his or her life or safety isn’t going to find any protection in a court order. As they say, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” 

Indeed, if the stories that protective order applicants told were always true (i.e., in fact every protective order applicant has already been abused, or abuse against them is/was being attempted and/or threatened), then shouldn’t the number of people stopped by a mere sheet of paper be remarkably low (i.e., why doesn’t alleged the abuser keep trying to abuse, in spite of a mere sheet of paper telling him/her not to abuse)?  

 It’s not as though a perpetrator reads the protective order after being served with it and says, “Well, as long as this piece of paper tells me I can’t kill or injure, then I have no choice but to respect the court order.” Murderers and determined abusers won’t be stopped by pieces of paper any more than they are stopped by laws already on the books that prohibit murder and abuse.[1] 

I had a client who claims that a bogus protective order was entered against him. I have no reason to doubt what he said (there was no verifiable evidence that any of his wife’s self-serving allegations—made in advance of her filing for divorce, of course—were true). There was no history of violence or abuse in his past (the only thing the wife could use against him when she made her original request for protective wardrobe is that he had received combat training when in the due course of his military service 20 years before she applied for the protective order). The protective order had been in place for 12 years when his daughter, who at that point was now an adult, engaged to be married. He wanted to attend the wedding and the reception. Utah law required that he make a request that the protective order be dismissed. His ex-wife opposed the motions, claiming that she was “still afraid” of him, even though her affidavit stated that she had had no contact or communication with him in 12 years (in other words, he had obeyed the protective order without exception).  

No contact with him in 12 years. No incidents of violence or attempted violence or even threats of violence. In 12 years. But all it took was her claim she was “still afraid”. No evidence he had in fact committed, attempted to commit, or threatened to commit any abuse. No evidence he was in fact a threat to her in any way. Indeed, all evidence was to the contrary. She said she was still scared, couldn’t explain why, but that’s all the judge needed. The protective order stayed in place (not even amended to make it possible for him to attend the ceremony or reception), and this man missed his daughter’s wedding. That’s real abuse.  

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

[1] Indeed, something can be said for the idea that falsely accusing someone of being an abuser and then ejecting him from his home and subjecting him to public ridicule and scorned maybe one of the best ways to foster abuse in situations where, but for the issuance of the ill-gotten protective order, no abuse would have ever occurred. Being falsely accused and falsely slapped with a protective order is humiliating and destroys an innocent’s faith in the legal system. Falsely-obtained protective orders create a sense of betrayal and anxiety that causes many an innocent person to reason that if innocence isn’t a protection against false allegations that kill reputations and careers and separate loving parents from children, then I might as well become what I’ve been accused of being. “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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How can I get an emergency hearing for custody and child support?

I will answer this question based upon the law of the jurisdiction where I practice family law (Utah).

So the question is: How can I get an emergency hearing for custody and child support?

The answer: Have a good reason.

A very good reason. A reason that would justify asking the court to address the issue on an emergency basis.

Do such reasons exist? Yes. Are such good reasons easy to establish? Generally, no, unless one tries to obtain emergency child custody through a protective order proceeding (more on why below).

Is it easy to lie about having good reasons for an emergency child custody order and obtain an emergency child custody order under false pretenses? Yes, especially if one tries to obtain emergency child custody through a protective order proceeding (more on why below).

Here are some ways to obtain an order of child custody (and possibly for child support too) in not particular order (with links to the statutes that govern them):

1. By protective order.

Cohabitant Abuse Act protective order

Child protective order (see also Utah Rules of Juvenile Procedure Rule 37)

2. Divorce or parentage action

motion for TRO (ex parte motion for child custody (and child support))

3. Guardianship action

4. “Custody and Visitation for Individuals Other than Parents Act” action

5. “Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act” action

6. Termination of parental rights action

7. “Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency Proceedings” action

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

 

https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-get-an-emergency-hearing-for-custody-and-child-support/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Can I get a stalking injunction against someone in a different state who stalks via social media?

How would you go about getting an order of protection against someone in a different state for harassment and stalking via social media?

I will answer your question based upon the law of the state of Utah, where I practice divorce and family law. And the answer is yes, you obtain a stalking injunction or a protective order against someone in a different state for harassment and stalking via social media.

We’ll start with what factors must be satisfied to obtain a criminal stalking injunction or a civil stalking injunction.

First:

§76-1-201. Jurisdiction of offenses.

(1) A person is subject to prosecution in this state for an offense which he commits, while either within or outside the state, by his own conduct or that of another for which he is legally accountable, if:

(a) the offense is committed either wholly or partly within the state[.]

So it is possible to commit the crime of stalking in Utah even if the victim does not reside in Utah.

Second:

§78B-7-701. Ex parte civil stalking injunction — Civil stalking injunction.

(1)(a) Except as provided in Subsection (1)(b), an individual who believes that the individual is the victim of stalking may file a verified written petition for a civil stalking injunction against the alleged stalker with the district court in the district in which the individual or respondent resides or in which any of the events occurred. A minor with the minor’s parent or guardian may file a petition on the minor’s own behalf, or a parent, guardian, or custodian may file a petition on the minor’s behalf.

So a civil stalking victim may seek a civil stalking injunction against the stalker in the state of Utah, if the stalker resides in Utah or if the act of stalking was committed in Utah.

Third:

78B-7-102. Definitions.

(21) “Stalking” means the same as that term is defined in Section 76-5-106.5.

§76-5-106.5. Stalking — Definitions — Injunction — Penalties — Duties of law enforcement officer.

*****

(2) A person is guilty of stalking who intentionally or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person and knows or should know that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person:

(a) to fear for the person’s own safety or the safety of a third person; or

(b) to suffer other emotional distress.

(3) A person is guilty of stalking who intentionally or knowingly violates:

(a) a stalking injunction issued under Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 7, Civil Stalking Injunctions; or

(b) a permanent criminal stalking injunction issued under Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 9, Criminal Stalking Injunctions.

Fourth:

§76-5-106.5. Stalking — Definitions — Injunction — Penalties — Duties of law enforcement officer.

(1) As used in this section:

(a) “Course of conduct” means two or more acts directed at or toward a specific person, including:

(i) acts in which the actor follows, monitors, observes, photographs, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person’s property:

(A) directly, indirectly, or through any third party; and

(B) by any action, method, device, or means; or

(ii) when the actor engages in any of the following acts or causes someone else to engage in any of these acts:

(A) approaches or confronts a person;

(B) appears at the person’s workplace or contacts the person’s employer or coworkers;

(C) appears at a person’s residence or contacts a person’s neighbors, or enters property owned, leased, or occupied by a person;

(D) sends material by any means to the person or for the purpose of obtaining or

disseminating information about or communicating with the person to a member of the person’s family or household, employer, coworker, friend, or associate of the person;

(E) places an object on or delivers an object to property owned, leased, or occupied by a person, or to the person’s place of employment with the intent that the object be delivered to the person; or

(F) uses a computer, the Internet, text messaging, or any other electronic means to commit an act that is a part of the course of conduct.

Fifth:

If the nature of the activity on social media satisfies the factors necessary to obtain a protective order (as opposed to a stalking injunction), then it is possible to obtain a protective order in response to online harassment and stalking.

Utah has a variety of possible protective orders available, depending upon the victim type:

Title 78B Judicial Code

Chapter 7 Protective Orders and Stalking Injunctions

Part 2 Child Protective Orders

78B-7-202. Abuse or danger of abuse — Child protective orders — Ex parte child protective orders — Guardian ad litem — Referral to division.

(1)

(a) Any interested person may file a petition for a protective order:

(i) on behalf of a child who is being abused or is in imminent danger of being abused by any individual; or

(ii) on behalf of a child who has been abused by an individual who is not the child’s parent, stepparent, guardian, or custodian.

Part 4 Dating Violence Protective Orders

§ 78B-7-403. Abuse or danger of abuse — Dating violence protective orders.

(1) An individual may seek a protective order if the individual is subjected to, or there is a substantial likelihood the individual will be subjected to:

(a) abuse by a dating partner of the individual; or

(b) dating violence by a dating partner of the individual.

Part 5 Sexual Violence Protective Orders

§78B-7-503. Sexual violence — Sexual violence protective orders.

(1)

(a) An individual may seek a protective order under this part if the individual has been subjected to sexual violence and is neither a cohabitant nor a dating partner of the respondent.

§ 78B-7-502. Definitions.

As used in this part:

*****

(3) “Sexual violence” means the commission or the attempt to commit:

(a) any sexual offense described in Title 76, Chapter 5, Part 4, Sexual Offenses, or Title 76, Chapter 5b, Part 2, Sexual Exploitation;

(b) human trafficking for sexual exploitation under Section 76-5-308; or

(c) aggravated human trafficking for forced sexual exploitation under Section 76-5-310.

Part 6 Cohabitant Abuse Protective Orders

§ 78B-7-602. Abuse or danger of abuse — Cohabitant abuse protective orders.

(1) Any cohabitant who has been subjected to abuse or domestic violence, or to whom there is a substantial likelihood of abuse or domestic violence, may seek a protective order in accordance with this part, whether or not the cohabitant has left the residence or the premises in an effort to avoid further abuse.

§ 78B-7-102. Definitions.

As used in this chapter:

(1) “Abuse” means, except as provided in Section 78B-7-201, intentionally or knowingly causing or attempting to cause another individual physical harm or intentionally or knowingly placing another individual in reasonable fear of imminent physical harm.

If the nature of the social media usage rises to the level of “intentionally or knowingly placing another individual in reasonable fear of imminent physical harm,” then it possibly could qualify the victim for a protective order.

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My parents filed an order of protection against me. Is there any way I can fight this at age 17 knowing that I’ve done no wrong?

My parents filed an order of protection against me. Is there any way I can fight this at age 17 knowing that I’ve done no wrong?

Your experience may be different, but welcome to what may be an experience that causes you to lose faith in the legal system. You are significantly at your parents’ and the system’s mercy.

The likely first strike against you: given your age, you can be treated much like an adult when it comes to penalties yet denied the freedom to present your case as you wish because of your status as a minor child.

The second strike against you: courts generally do not like hearing from children in almost any law suit and go out of there way to curtail their participation. Now in fairness, in may instances this is intended to protect children and in many instances it does have that effect. In other instances, however, it serves to do nothing but muzzle a child, denying him/her the full capacity to defend himself/herself or express his/her concerns, fears, and desires. The testimony and/or arguments of children, merely on the basis of their being children, are often dismissed as not competent or credible witnesses.

The third strike is that you’re a wild, scary 17-year-old child, boiling with hormones and irresponsibility, which makes it very easy 1) not to be taken seriously; and 2) to be on the receiving end of prejudice, especially when your parents accuse you of being a danger to them.

Bottom line: to say, “Trying to go it alone as a child in court is difficult” is a ridiculously glaring understatement. The unquestionably best thing you can do for yourself is to get a skilled lawyer of your choice, if you can, to defend you within the legal system and to protect you from the vagaries of the legal system. Nothing else will 1) do you and your case more good and 2) better improve your odds of being treated fairly.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/My-parents-filed-an-order-of-protection-against-me-Is-there-any-way-I-can-fight-this-at-age-17-knowing-that-I-ve-done-no-wrong/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Unique challenges for men and women face in divorce and child custody

The unique challenges men and women face in divorce and child custody cases

What follows is my opinion, but my honest and sincere opinion born of experience over the past 23 years in the practice of divorce and family law. It is an educated opinion that nevertheless may, and likely will,  lead to my being disparaged and to me making some enemies, but if we don’t exercise the precious right of free speech by letting the heckler’s veto silence any of us, we have no one to blame but ourselves. And we all lose.

Men and Women, women and men can encounter—and more often than not do encounter—unique challenges in divorce and child custody cases. Some lawyers and judges and others in the legal system deny that there are cultural biases or prejudices ever affecting treatment of men and women, but that is just not true.

Mothers are awarded sole or primary custody of children in the overwhelming majority of cases, no matter how hard a father has worked and striven to prove he can make joint custody work.

Mothers are awarded sole or primary custody of children in the overwhelming majority of cases, even when the mother is less fit (I am not saying unfit, just less fit) than the father.

This is an undeniable bias against men, seeing and treating them, falsely and unfairly, as second-class parents.

Interestingly, it does not matter whether your judge is a man or a woman, the bias is cultural and institutional.

I will note that this bias is weaker now that it was in the past, and it is getting weaker, yet it is still surprisingly strong against men.

Another bias: modern women have a lot to say about being just as qualified as men are to do the same work and thus be paid the same amount of money, so the cognitive dissonance is unavoidable in a divorce case when the subject of alimony arises. These same strong independent women are the most helpless creatures in the world when it comes to claiming a desperate need for alimony, and quite often the courts buy it. Do not misunderstand me. There are clearly many women and even some men who are, through no fault of their own, financially dependent upon their spouses and who are clearly deserving of alimony and spousal support post-divorce. But men get the short end of the stick when it comes to alimony far more often than do women. While this bias is waning, it is still present and still undeniable.

Interestingly, it does not matter whether your judge is a man or a woman, the bias is cultural and institutional.

I will note that this bias is weaker now that it was in the past, and it is getting weaker, yet it is still surprisingly strong against men.

Another bias against men is revealed in the realm of domestic violence and the way the law treats it. If a man seeks police help or protection from a violent wife or girlfriend, he is often laughed at or humiliated for failing to man up and defend himself. If such a man is fool enough to take that kind of advice, he will find himself the one arrested for committing domestic violence. I have witnessed personally situations where the man is bloodied and bruised, and the wife complains that he pushed her down while she was beating him, and the police will arrest the man for “assaulting” the woman.

Courts are far more willing to believe claims of domestic violence made by wives and mothers against the men in their lives. This is not a matter of opinion; this is a matter of fact. Anyone can confirm this to be true by simply attending the protective order and restraining order and civil stalking injunction court hearings that are open to the public. While I will be the first to acknowledge that there are clearly genuine incidents of domestic violence that are reported and for which protective orders are issued, you can witness for yourself protective and restraining orders issued on literally nothing but one’s word over another’s. No objectively verifiable evidence to support the claims at all. And yet the protective orders and restraining orders get issued, nonetheless. And who gets these orders at least 9 out of 10 times? It is women. That does not square with that the statistics kept by law enforcement, which shows that wives and girlfriends are more violent towards men than 10% of the time.

I will note that this bias is weaker now that it was in the past, and it is getting weaker, yet it is still surprisingly strong against men.

What does this mean? It means that men often have to win the child custody, alimony, and domestic violence disputes six ways from Sunday. They generally need far, far more and far better evidence than the women to get the same things women get with less and lower-quality evidence.

So, guys, if your marriage is crumbling, and you happen to be married to a woman who is vindictive and or crazy, keep the foregoing in mind. And take the necessary steps to protect yourself. One of the ways that crazy vindictive women take advantage of men in divorce and child custody cases is accusing them of domestic violence as a cheap and incredibly rapid way to remove the man from the house and to keep him out. As I alluded to earlier, one of the most common ways this is done is by the woman calling the police claiming that the man has assaulted her, attempted to assault her, or threatened to assault her. Sometimes all they have to do is make no claims of assault, attempted assault, or threatened assault and merely claim that they “don’t feel safe around” the man they live with, without even providing any plausible basis for such an ostensible “fear”. To protect yourself from being arrested and forcibly removed from your house, from false allegations of domestic violence, and fraudulently sought protective orders, and character assassination, you may find the following the difference between defeat and victory:

First, unless your safety or life is truly in jeopardy by remaining in the same house with your vindictive and/or crazy wife or girlfriend, do not move out of the house. If you do, your vindictive and/or crazy wife or girlfriend will claim that you abandoned her and the children, as well as the house itself, meaning that you should be forever barred from living there, even though it’s your house, even if you can show the court that you have nowhere else you can go. After all, so the thinking goes, you abandoned the family and you abandoned the house, so you should be forever barred. Do not move out if you don’t have to.

Second, if your house is the kind that has a distinct upstairs and downstairs, move downstairs. Then put it in writing to your spouse and get it on audio and video too, if you can, showing that your vindictive and/or crazy wife or girlfriend is clearly on notice that you are trying to stay away from her for the purpose of maintaining the peace and protecting yourself. That way if she tries to claim that she does not understand why you have done what you have done, you have clear proof as to why and proof that she knew why.

Notify your crazy and/or vindictive wife or girlfriend that you will be placing locks on closets in the downstairs to protect your property from theft or vandalism by her. Do not lock her out of the basement itself, but do point out that you will have the downstairs wired for sound and video, so that if she ever goes down there with the purpose of robbing you or vandalizing your living quarters or property, she will be undeniably caught.

In your written and video recorded notices to your crazy and/or vindictive wife or girlfriend also inform her that you are placing cameras and microphones everywhere throughout the basement in every room and every space to ensure that your movements and hers in the basement are tracked. Tell her she has no expectation of privacy anywhere in the basement. Post it in writing on the basement door and on the wall on the stairs leading downstairs. Post it on the bathroom door. Inform her that you have taken both photographic and video footage of the cameras and microphones and the written notices, so that if she tries to claim you violated her privacy downstairs, or if she tries to remove or damage them, there will be no way she can remove them at least one camera and microphone capturing her misconduct and making a record of it. You may even want to go so far as to buy one of those wearable cameras and microphone combinations on your person at all times when you are in the house with your crazy and/or vindictive wife or girlfriend, so that they don’t get any ideas about trying to pick fights and frame you for a fraudulent claim of domestic violence.

Again, this may seem extreme and over-the-top, but I have seen what happens to men who fail to protect themselves adequately. I’ve also seen men avoid being so much as charged with a crime, let alone convicted, because they — as soon as they got an inkling that their wives or girlfriends might be up to no good — took steps to document and secure and protect themselves.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Can Being in a Zoom or WebEx Meeting Violate a Restraining Order?

Can Being in a Zoom or WebEx Meeting Violate a Restraining Order?

What’s going to happen if I have a restraining order and I get on Zoom to make a meeting or a call and that person that I have the restraining order against is in the Zoom meeting?

It depends upon what the terms of the restraining or protective order are.

If you have a restraining order that prohibits someone from communicating with you, then if that person participates in a Zoom conference in which that person communicates with you that would constitute a violation of the restraining/protective order.

The trickier question is whether it would constitute a violation of the restraining/protective order for that person to participate in a Zoom call in which there are dozens of participants and the person against whom you have the restraining/protective order clearly is attending the meeting in good faith and for any malicious purpose, is ignorant of the fact your are among the other attendees, and then communicates with the group (not with you specifically). I had this very situation arise and, thankfully, the judge agreed that because my client and I proved that he 1) was a legitimate invitee to the group meeting, 2) did not know the woman who had the restraining order against him was in the group meeting too, and 3) that his communication was with the group (not with the woman with the order specifically), that did not constitute a violation of the prohibition against communication.

If you have a restraining order that does not prohibit communication but only prohibits someone from being within a certain distance of you (say 100 yards), then if that person participates, from another city or state, in a Zoom conference with you that would not constitute a violation of the restraining/protective order.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Whats-going-to-happen-if-I-have-a-restraining-order-and-I-get-on-Zoom-to-make-a-meeting-or-a-call-and-that-person-that-I-have-the-restraining-order-against-is-in-the-Zoom-meeting/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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What happens to a person who files a protective order out of spite?

What happens to a person who files a protective order out of spite?

Unless you can prove it was filed out of spite/fraudulently: nothing.

Clearly, there are people who are dangerous and their victim’s or potential victims need and deserve protection. Still, after more than 23 years in practice it is my opinion 1) that most (most, not all) protective orders are filed spitefully/fraudulently, and 2) that few falsely filed protective order applications are dismissed as without merit.

Why?

In my experience many courts don’t exercise the courage to deny insufficiently supported protective order applications is because they don’t want to.

Why?

I believe that when courts don’t want to deny insufficiently supported protective order applications it is because they do not have the will or courage to deny those insufficiently supported protective order applications.

Why?

They don’t want to deny an insufficiently supported protective order application only to learn a week later that the respondent/defendant put the applicant in the hospital or the morgue. They don’t want it on their conscience and/or to be blamed and criticized for such a situation. That’s perfectly understandable, but it’s still totally wrong; it’s a blatant denial of due process and a blatant failure to abide by the applicable standards of proof, but many courts feel that “better safe than sorry” and “an abundance of caution” trump these bedrock principles of justice. They do not. Exercising judgment is a tough and thankless job, but it’s the job nonetheless. If a judge does not have the guts to apply the law impartially and correctly to the best of the judge’s ability, that judge has no business being a judge.

It is a crime to lie to judges. It is a crime to lie to law enforcement. It is a crime in my jurisdiction (Utah) to seek a protective order fraudulently. That is likely true for most jurisdictions. Here are some ways one could be charged and prosecuted IF a prosecutor were interested in pursuing such a charge (and they rarely are):

Utah Code § 76-8-506. Providing false information to law enforcement officers, government agencies, or specified professionals.

A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he:

(1) knowingly gives or causes to be given false information to any peace officer or any state or local government agency or personnel with a purpose of inducing the recipient of the information to believe that another has committed an offense;

(2) knowingly gives or causes to be given to any peace officer, any state or local government agency or personnel, or to any person licensed in this state to practice social work, psychology, or marriage and family therapy, information concerning the commission of an offense, knowing that the offense did not occur or knowing that he has no information relating to the offense or danger;

******

Utah Code § 76-8-504. Written false statement.

A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if:

(1) He makes a written false statement which he does not believe to be true on or pursuant to a form bearing a notification authorized by law to the effect that false statements made therein are punishable; or

(2) With intent to deceive a public servant in the performance of his official function, he:

(a) Makes any written false statement which he does not believe to be true; or

(b) Knowingly creates a false impression in a written application for any pecuniary or other benefit by omitting information necessary to prevent statements therein from being misleading; or

(c) Submits or invites reliance on any writing which he knows to be lacking in authenticity; or

(d) Submits or invites reliance on any sample, specimen, map, boundary mark, or other object which he knows to be false.

(3) No person shall be guilty under this section if he retracts the falsification before it becomes manifest that the falsification was or would be exposed.

Utah Code § 76-8-502. False or inconsistent material statements.

A person is guilty of a felony of the second degree if in any official proceeding:

(1) He makes a false material statement under oath or affirmation or swears or affirms the truth of a material statement previously made and he does not believe the statement to be true; or

(2) He makes inconsistent material statements under oath or affirmation, both within the period of limitations, one of which is false and not believed by him to be true.

Utah Code § 76-8-503. False or inconsistent statements.

(1) Except as provided in Subsection (2), a person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if:

(a) the person makes a false statement under oath or affirmation or swears or affirms the truth of the statement previously made and the person does not believe the statement to be true if:

(i) the falsification occurs in an official proceeding, or is made with a purpose to mislead a public servant in performing the public servant’s official functions; or

(ii) the statement is one that is authorized by law to be sworn or affirmed before a notary or other person authorized to administer oaths; or

(b) the person makes inconsistent statements under oath or affirmation, both within the period of limitations, one of which is false and not believed by the person to be true.

(2) Subsection (1) does not include obstructing a legislative proceeding, as described in Section 36-12-9.5.

(3) A person is not guilty under this section if the person retracts the falsification before it becomes manifest that the falsification has been or will be exposed.

Utah Code § 76-8-501. Definitions.

As used in this part:

(1) “False statement” includes a false unsworn declaration, with “unsworn declaration” being defined in Section 78B-18a-102.

(2) “Material” means capable of affecting the course or outcome of an official proceeding, unless the person who made the statement or provided the information retracts the statement or information before the earlier of:

(a) the end of the official proceeding in which the statement was made or the information was provided;

(b) when it becomes manifest that the false or misleading nature of the statement or information has been or will be exposed; or

(c) when the statement or information substantially affects the proceeding.

(3) “Official proceeding” means:

(a) any proceeding before:

(i) a legislative, judicial, administrative, or other governmental body or official authorized by law to take evidence under oath or affirmation;

(ii) a notary; or

(iii) a person that takes evidence in connection with a proceeding described in Subsection (3)(a)(i);

(b) any civil or administrative action, trial, examination under oath, administrative proceeding, or other civil or administrative adjudicative process; or

(c) an investigation or audit conducted by:

(i) the Legislature, or a house, committee, subcommittee, or task force of the Legislature; or

(ii) an employee or independent contractor of an entity described in Subsection (3)(c)(i), at or under the direction of an entity described in Subsection (3)(c)(i).

Utah Code § 76-8-505. False or inconsistent statements — Proof of falsity of statements — Irregularities no defense.

(1) On any prosecution for a violation of Subsection 76-8-502(1) or 76-8-503(1)(a), falsity of a statement may not be established solely through contradiction by the testimony of a single witness.

(2) In prosecutions for violation of Subsection 76-8-502(2) or 76-8-503(1)(b), it need not be alleged or proved which of the statements are false but only that one or the other is false and not believed by the defendant to be true.

(3) It is not a defense to a charge under this part that the oath or affirmation was administered or taken in an irregular manner.

———————-

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/What-happens-to-a-person-who-files-a-protective-order-out-of-spite/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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If someone obtains a restraining order against me, can I obtain one against him/her?

If someone put a restraining order on you only because they thought you were going to put one on them and they are the one who is stalking and harassing you, can you put one on them before anything is decided by the judge?

This happens a lot, i.e., the real perp accuses you of the very things he/she is doing and on that basis “preemptively” requests a restraining order or protective order or stalking injunction (whatever options that particular jurisdiction allows) against you before you can seek one against him/her.

Some jurisdictions, however, do not bar you from seeking some kind of protective order against such a perp, even if he/she obtained one against you first. Utah is such a jurisdiction. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your jurisdiction to find out what options you may have.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/If-someone-put-a-restraining-order-on-you-only-because-they-thought-you-were-going-to-put-one-on-them-and-they-are-the-one-who-is-stalking-and-harassing-you-can-you-put-one-on-them-days-before-anything-is-decided-by/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Can I renew the no contact order?

Probably, but even if the no contact order cannot be renewed, or if the police or court (depending upon who in your jurisdiction has the authority to renew the no contact order) refuse to renew the no contact order, then there are a variety of other options you may have to provide the same or substantially similar protections:

  • Protective orders (also known by other names like Orders of Protection, etc.)
  • Restraining Orders
  • Stalking Injunctions

To find out whether you can renew a no contact order, talk to a lawyer who deals with criminal and domestic relations matters or to a knowledgeable person at your police or sheriff’s office.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Can I get a restraining order against a person living in the same house?

Can one get a restraining order against a person living in the same house as me?

Sure. There’s no requirement that the petitioner and respondent in a restraining order matter reside separately as a condition to obtaining a restraining order or protective order, although it is common for for a petitioner who is currently residing with the respondent (or who recently resided with, but then fled) to escape the danger posed by the respondent) to ask that the restraining order or protective order eject the respondent from the marital or shared residence as a means of ensuring that one is protected.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Can-a-person-get-a-restraining-order-on-a-person-in-the-same-house/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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2019 UT App 202 – State v. Baize – protective order challenge

2019 UT App 202 – THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH, Appellee,
v.
NATHAN DAVID BAIZE, Appellant.

Opinion
No. 20180326-CA
Filed December 12, 2019

Fourth District Court, American Fork Department
The Honorable Roger W. Griffin
No. 161100835

Douglas J. Thompson, Attorney for Appellant
Sean D. Reyes and Tera J. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellee
JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES KATE APPLEBY and JILL M. POHLMAN concurred.

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

¶1           Nathan David Baize appeals his convictions for violating a protective order. We affirm.

BACKGROUND[1]

¶2           Baize and his former wife (Victim) were married in 2010 and divorced in 2014. Victim had sole physical custody of their child and shared joint legal custody with Baize. After enduring several instances of verbal and physical abuse, Victim sought a protective order against Baize. The court issued a protective order after a hearing, at which Baize was present, directing Baize not to “commit, try to commit or threaten to commit any form of violence” against Victim, including “stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse.” Baize was also ordered, “Do not contact, phone, mail, e-mail, or communicate in any way with [Victim], either directly or indirectly,” with the exception that Baize could email Victim about their child, provided his communications were “civil in nature.”

¶3           After the entry of the protective order, Baize sent numerous emails to Victim that were not about their child, not civil in nature, and arguably abusive. Much of the content of the emails was directed toward Victim’s qualities and character. Baize sent emails to Victim telling her that she was a “spoiled brat,” “lazy,” “irresponsible,” “vindictive,” “selfish,” “uncooperative,” “incapable,” “fake,” and lacking “integrity.” Baize also sent emails to Victim telling her to “[u]se your brain blondie,” to “[k]eep it simple stupid, [Victim’s name],” and that he was “sick and tired . . . of [Victim’s] blonde, lazy, messed up approach to cooperation.” Additionally, on several occasions, Baize threatened to call the police for “custodial interference charges.”

¶4           On another occasion, Baize emailed Victim—with a copy also sent to Victim’s new husband—complaining about Victim and alleging that Victim engaged in certain improprieties during their marriage. Victim’s husband spoke to Baize at length and told him that he “need[ed] to stop the belligerent, degrading emails to [Victim].” Baize responded that his emails “will never stop.” Furthermore, Baize told Victim that she was “a weak, weak person” because she would “construe [his email comments] as personal attacks.”

 

¶5        The content of Baize’s emails to Victim prompted the State to charge him with four counts of violating a protective order. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-108 (LexisNexis Supp. 2018). These charges were enhanced from misdemeanors to third degree felonies because Baize already had a prior conviction for violating the same protective order. See id. § 77-36-1.1(2)(c) (Supp. 2019) (describing enhanced penalties for violating a protective order). Baize moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the protective order was an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech and that requiring his emails to be “civil in nature” was unconstitutionally vague. Baize also asked the court to give the jury an instruction defining the terms “harassing,” “threatening,” and “abuse” in the protective order as “forms of violence or threats of violence.” The court denied both motions.

¶6        At trial, Baize stated that while the tone in his emails might indicate that he was “[f]rustrated,” “feeling dejected,” “[h]elpless, hopeless, [and] concerned,” the emails were never uncivil. Rather, Baize asserted that he was just being “honest” and “clear.” However, Baize also testified that he suspected Victim would be offended by the emails and that Victim was “weak” for reading his emails as insults. Baize also admitted that his emails were similar in tone and content to emails he had sent previously to Victim, which formed the basis of his prior conviction for violating the same protective order. The jury found Baize guilty of three counts of violating a protective order. Baize appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶7        The first issue on appeal is whether the restriction in the protective order requiring that Baize’s communication with Victim be “civil in nature” rendered the order unconstitutionally vague or acted as a prior restraint on speech. “Whether [an order] is constitutional is a question of law that we review for correctness, giving no deference to the trial court.” State v. MacGuire, 2004 UT 4, ¶ 8, 84 P.3d 1171 (quotation simplified).

 

¶8           Baize’s second challenge on appeal is that the trial court erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on the “legal definitions” of terms in the protective order. This issue presents a question of law, and both parties agree that we review the trial court’s decision on this point for correctness. See State v. Dozah, 2016 UT App 13, ¶ 12, 368 P.3d 863 (“We review a district court’s refusal to give a requested jury instruction for correctness.”).

ANALYSIS

I. Constitutional Challenges to the Protective Order

¶9           At the outset, we must determine whether Baize is permitted, “in this criminal proceeding, [to] collaterally attack the protective order entered in the prior civil proceeding.” See State v. Hegbloom, 2014 UT App 213, ¶ 10, 362 P.3d 921. The State contends that as “a threshold matter, this Court should not address either constitutional claim because the collateral bar rule precludes Baize from challenging the validity of the protective order in a prosecution for violating that order.”

¶10 A collateral attack is “where a judgment is attacked in other ways than by proceedings in the original action to have it vacated or revised or modified or by a proceeding in equity to prevent its enforcement.” Olsen v. Board of Educ. of Granite School Dist., 571 P.2d 1336, 1338 (Utah 1977) (quotation simplified). “Under the collateral bar doctrine, a party may not challenge a district court’s order by violating it. Instead, [the party] must move to vacate or modify the order, or seek relief in an appellate court.” Iota LLC v. Davco Mgmt. Co., 2016 UT App 231, ¶ 13, 391 P.3d 239 (quotation simplified). “With rare exception, when a court with proper jurisdiction enters a final judgment, . . . that judgment can only be attacked on direct appeal.” State v. Hamilton, 2003 UT 22, ¶ 25, 70 P.3d 111.

¶11 The proper forum for a defendant to challenge a protective order’s terms is in the original action, not in a subsequent criminal case resulting from its violation. This court has already addressed this issue in Hegbloom, where we stated that a civil protective order is not subject to collateral attack and that there is “nothing fundamentally unfair in not allowing a litigant to challenge collaterally a judgment he could have challenged directly had he chosen to do so.” 2014 UT App 213, ¶¶ 15, 22; see also Olsen, 571 P.2d at 1338 (explaining that when an issue is erroneously decided, the proper remedy is to directly, rather than collaterally, attack it); Iota, 2016 UT App 231, ¶ 18 (“The proper method for contesting an adverse ruling is to appeal it, not to violate it.” (quotation simplified)). Courts in other jurisdictions are in accord.[2]

¶12 Thus, our precedent and that of other jurisdictions make clear that the collateral bar rule applies to situations in which a defendant seeks to attack the validity of a protective order in a criminal proceeding for addressing a violation of that same protective order. See State v. Winter, 979 A.2d 608, 615 (Conn. App. Ct. 2009) (“The collateral bar rule has been extended to apply to situations in which . . . the defendant seeks to attack the validity of a court order in a criminal proceeding, and the rule is justified on the ground that it advances important societal interests in an orderly system of government, respect for the judicial process and the rule of law, and the preservation of civil order.” (quotation simplified)).

¶13 Here, Baize was ordered not to “commit, try to commit or threaten to commit any form of violence” against Victim, including “stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse.” The relevant portion of the protective order also provided the following prohibition: “Do not contact, phone, mail, e-mail or communicate in any way with [Victim], either directly or indirectly,” the only exception being that Baize could contact Victim “via email about Child,” provided the emails were “civil in nature.” Not only did Baize sign the protective order as a whole, but he initialed each provision of the order, including those he now challenges on constitutional grounds. Thus, at the outset and even before he signed it, Baize had the opportunity to seek clarification of any provision in the order that he believed was too restrictive or vague. And after the protective order was entered by the court, Baize still could have challenged the order on direct appeal. But he never did so. Instead, Baize raised his prior restraint and vagueness challenges to the protective order only after he was criminally charged a second time with violating the order.

¶14 Precedent—both that of Utah and other jurisdictions­ states that a defendant cannot attack the validity of a protective order in a prosecution for violating the order. And that is exactly what Baize attempts to do here. Thus, we conclude that Baize cannot collaterally attack a protective order arising from a civil proceeding in this criminal proceeding. Put simply, this is not the proper forum to address constitutional challenges to the protective order’s terms.[3]

II. Legal Definitions in the Protective Order

¶15 The protective order prohibited Baize from “stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse” to Victim. Baize argues that the trial court erred when it denied his request to define for the jury certain “legal terms” contained in the protective order.

¶16 Jury instructions require no specific form as long as they accurately convey the law. “To determine if jury instructions correctly state the law, we look at the jury instructions in their entirety and will affirm when the instructions taken as a whole fairly instruct the jury on the law applicable to the case.” State v. Painter, 2014 UT App 272, ¶ 6, 339 P.3d 107 (quotation simplified); see also State v. Hobbs, 2003 UT App 27, ¶ 31, 64 P.3d 1218 (stating that jury instructions will be upheld when they “fairly tender the case to the jury even where one or more of the instructions, standing alone, are not as full or accurate as they might have been” (quotation simplified)).

¶17 Baize was charged with violating a protective order. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-108 (LexisNexis Supp. 2018) (stating that any person who is “subject to a protective order” and “who intentionally or knowingly violates that order after having been properly served” is guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances). The court instructed the jury that to find Baize guilty of violating the protective order, it would need to find beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements:

  1. Nathan David Baize;
  2. While subject to a protective order issued by a Utah Court;
  3. After having been properly served with the protective order;
  4. Intentionally or knowingly violated the protective order; and
  5. Is or was a cohabitant of the alleged victim.

¶18 Baize contends that the court erred when it denied his motion requesting a jury instruction that defined the terms “stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse” as forms of violence or the threat of violence. Baize argues that “because the protective order only prohibits stalking, harassing, threats, and abuse insofar as these terms could mean violence or a threat of violence,” the definitions of those terms should be “limited . . . to that realm.” (Quotation simplified.) Specifically, Baize requested that the court instruct the jury on the definitions of harassment and physical harm as those terms are defined in Utah’s criminal code or in the Cohabitant Abuse Procedures Act. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-106(1) (LexisNexis 2017) (defining harassment as intentionally frightening or harassing another by communicating “a written or recorded threat to commit any violent felony”); id. § 77-36-1(4) (Supp. 2019) (defining domestic violence as “any criminal offense involving violence or physical harm or threat of violence or physical harm”).[4]

¶19 The violence-based definitional language Baize requested is not found in the protective order or in the statute he was accused of violating. But Baize asserts that because Utah Code section 76-5-108 does not define the terms in the protective order (namely, harassing and threatening), the court should have given the jury the statutory meanings of those terms pulled from other provisions of the criminal code instead of allowing the jury to rely on the general understanding of the terms. Baize’s argument misses the mark. He was not charged with harassing or any other violent behavior pursuant to a separate statute. Rather, he was charged pursuant to Utah Code section 76-5-108 with four counts of violating the protective order, and the jury instructions on those four counts closely tracked the language of that section. Moreover, Baize presents no evidence that the protective order adopted the specific violence-based statutory definitions he proposed.

¶20 We conclude that the trial court did not err when it denied Baize’s request that the jury be instructed using Baize’s restrictive definitions of certain terms and allowed the jury to determine whether Baize violated the protective order based on common definitions of the terms contained in the protective order.[5]

CONCLUSION

¶21 We hold that the proper forum for Baize to challenge the protective order was the original civil proceeding pursuant to which the order was entered. Because Baize had notice and the opportunity to appeal the protective order, he is barred from collaterally challenging it in the subsequent criminal proceeding resulting from its violation. We also conclude that the trial court did not err in denying Baize’s request to define for the jury certain terms contained in the protective order. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

———————–

[1] “On appeal, we recite the facts from the record in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict and present conflicting evidence only as necessary to understand issues raised on appeal.” State v. Daniels, 2002 UT 2, ¶ 2, 40 P.3d 611.

[2] 2. Other jurisdictions also explicitly bar collateral attack in this context. See, e.g., State v. Grindling, 31 P.3d 915, 918–19 (Haw. 2001) (stating that a domestic restraining order is not subject to collateral attack in the criminal proceeding for its violation and collecting cases stating the same); Wood v. Commonwealth, 178 S.W.3d 500, 513 (Ky. 2005) (stating that a party “may not launch a collateral attack on the validity of an emergency protective order in a subsequent prosecution for violation of that order”); Truesdell v. State, 304 P.3d 396, 399 (Nev. 2013) (“[A] party may not collaterally attack the validity of a [protective order] in a subsequent criminal proceeding based on violation of the [protective order].”); Best v. Marino, 2017-NMCA-073, ¶ 18, 404 P.3d 450 (“The collateral bar rule precludes a restrained party from challenging the merits of [a protective order] after a finding of contempt.”); City of Seattle v. May, 256 P.3d 1161, 1165 (Wash. 2011) (en banc) (“The collateral bar rule precludes challenges to the validity . . . of a court order in a proceeding for violation of such an order except for challenges to the issuing court’s jurisdiction to issue the type of order in question.”).

[3] 3. Even if we were to conclude that Baize could attack the validity of the civil protective order here and agree with him that the “civil in nature” language in the protective order is unconstitutionally vague, Baize ignores the alternative restriction imposed on him by the protective order, namely that his communication with Victim must pertain to their child. Baize’s emails to Victim appear to have violated this provision.

Baize’s communications variously described Victim in unflattering terms and accused her of indiscretions. Indeed, our review of the record reveals that Baize’s emails to Victim are replete with examples of Baize directing his comments to Victim’s alleged attributes rather than a discussion of co-parenting needs or the needs of the child.

We find the argument that Baize’s comments took place in the context of communication about their child unpersuasive. Baize’s concerns regarding their child’s well-being or Victim’s parenting could have been effectively communicated without personal commentary about Victim. In fact, Baize admitted at trial that he was “[g]ambling on” Victim construing the comments he made in his emails as “personal attacks.”

[4] Baize also argues on appeal that the jury should have been instructed on the definition of stalking. But at trial, the State stipulated that the court would consider instructing the jury on the definition of stalking only “[i]f the State [brought] in evidence of stalking.” The State did not attempt to introduce evidence of stalking, and Baize did not again request that the trial court instruct the jury on the issue of stalking. Consequently, Baize waived this aspect of his argument below and cannot raise it on appeal. See State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 16 n.4, 416 P.3d 443 (“Waiver, in the context of raising an issue before a court, is generally the relinquishment or abandonment of an issue before a trial or appellate court. . . . If an issue has been waived in the trial court, that issue is not preserved for appeal.”).

[5] 5. We resolve this aspect of Baize’s appeal by declining to apply strict statutory definitions, but we note that the language of the relevant provisions of the protective order was written broadly and did not suggest that Baize was prohibited from engaging in only physically violent behavior or in making threats of violence. Baize’s violence-based reading of the protective order’s terms conflicts with the public policy underlying the entire domestic violence statutory scheme:

Because of the serious, unique, and highly traumatic nature of domestic violence crimes, the high recidivism rate of violent offenders, and the demonstrated increased risk of continued acts of violence subsequent to the release of a perpetrator who is convicted of domestic violence, it is the finding of the Legislature that domestic violence crimes warrant the issuance of continuous protective orders . . . because of the need to provide ongoing protection for the victim . . . . [T]he court shall issue a continuous protective order at the time of the conviction or sentencing limiting the contact between the perpetrator and the victim unless the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the victim does not . . . have a reasonable fear of future harm or abuse.

Utah Code Ann. § 77-36-5.1(6)(a)–(b) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019); see also State v. Hardy, 2002 UT App 244, ¶ 17, 54 P.3d 645 (“The state has an inarguably significant interest in protecting the health and well-being of its citizens. In furtherance of this goal, the state has created a mechanism whereby the victims of domestic violence may obtain civil orders of protection against their abusers. As part of this protection, the court may prohibit the abuser from having any contact, direct or indirect, with the victim or the victim’s family.”). Thus, the statute’s purpose is to protect domestic abuse victims from further abusive behavior in the broad sense, including psychological abuse and other forms of controlling behavior. Baize’s violence-based interpretation of the protective order’s terms appears to run contrary to the significant interest the State has in protecting the overall health and emotional well-being of its citizens.

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2019 UT App 207 – Peeples v. Peeples – modification of child custody

2019 UT App 207 – THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

ADAM LEGRANDE PEEPLES, Appellee,
v.
ANNALEISE T. PEEPLES, Appellant.

Opinion
No. 20180713-CA
Filed December 19, 2019

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Andrew H. Stone
No. 044901980

Brian Boggess, Attorney for Appellant
Adam L. Peeples, Appellee Pro Se

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and KATE APPLEBY concurred.

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1           Annaleise T. Peeples (Mother) asked the district court to modify her divorce decree to give her sole custody of her two teenage daughters, but the district court refused, determining that Mother had failed to demonstrate any substantial change in the circumstances underlying the original decree. Mother now appeals the district court’s order dismissing her petition to modify, and we affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2           In 2004, after about three-and-a-half years of marriage, Adam Legrande Peeples (Father) filed for divorce from Mother, citing irreconcilable differences. Around the same time, Father also sought and obtained a protective order against Mother, asserting that Mother had been physically abusive to him; that protective order awarded temporary custody of the parties’ two young daughters to Father. The parties were each represented by counsel in both the divorce and the protective order proceedings, and because of the allegations of physical abuse, the court also appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the two children. Early in the divorce case, all parties and counsel appeared before a domestic relations commissioner to discuss the parties’ motions for temporary orders. Following that hearing, the commissioner entered a temporary order, later countersigned by the assigned trial judge, awarding temporary custody of the children to Father, as the protective order did, with Mother receiving parent-time.

¶3           As the divorce proceedings progressed, the district court appointed a custody evaluator to make a recommendation to the court. While the custody evaluation was ongoing, the court entered a stipulated bifurcated decree of divorce in 2005, severing the parties’ marital union but reserving all other issues, including custody and parent-time, for further proceedings. In 2007, Mother filed her first motion for a change in custody, alleging that the temporary order giving custody to Father was unworkable because Mother lived in northern Utah County and Father lived in Salt Lake County, and because Father had “moved three times in three years and has not demonstrated stability.” Father objected, and after briefing and oral argument, the commissioner denied Mother’s motion.

¶4           In October 2007, soon after the commissioner denied Mother’s motion for a change in temporary custody, the parties and counsel participated in a settlement conference with the custody evaluator, at which the evaluator orally shared with the parties his recommendation: that primary physical custody remain with Father. At a hearing in December 2007, the guardian ad litem informed the court that he agreed with the custody evaluator’s recommendation. At that same hearing, the district court set a date for a bench trial to resolve all remaining issues.

¶5           Following the commissioner’s ruling on Mother’s motion and the court’s decision to set a trial date, as well as the revelation of the recommendations made by the custody evaluator and the guardian ad litem, the parties and their counsel entered into negotiations, and were able to resolve the remaining issues by stipulation. On April 28, 2008, after more than four years of divorce litigation, the court entered a stipulated amended decree of divorce, awarding the parties “joint legal custody” of the children, but awarding Father “primary physical custody.” Mother was to have “liberal parenting time” amounting to five out of every fourteen overnights during the school year, with the schedule to be “reversed” during the summertime.

¶6           Perhaps not surprisingly, given the nature and tone of the four years of pre-decree litigation, entry of the final divorce decree did not end the divisiveness and discord between these parties. About a year-and-a-half after the amended decree was entered, Mother filed a petition to modify, seeking amendments to the parent-time provisions of the decree. Mother alleged that circumstances had changed substantially since the entry of the decree because Father had enrolled the children in year-round school, rendering certain of the decree’s provisions unworkable, and because Father had violated the decree in numerous particulars. Father responded by filing a cross-petition to modify, seeking sole legal and physical custody. After further proceedings, the district court declined to modify the original divorce decree, and denied the parties’ dueling petitions.

¶7           A few years later, in 2013, Mother filed the instant petition to modify, this time seeking sole physical custody of the children. Mother asserted that circumstances had changed in three specific ways. First, she contended that Father had been “unable to provide a stable home environment” and find “stable employment.” Second, she contended that Father had “denied [her] physical visitation” to which she was entitled pursuant to the decree. Third, she contended that Father had “become violent with other people” and that “the children [had] been emotionally abused.”

¶8           Soon after the filing of Mother’s 2013 petition to modify, the parties agreed to have another custody evaluation done. After some procedural wrangling about the identity of the evaluator, the court finally appointed one, and the new evaluator interviewed the parties and the children in the fall of 2015. In January 2016, the evaluator shared her recommendation with the parties’ attorneys: that Mother be awarded sole physical custody, with Father to receive “standard minimum parent time.” Soon thereafter, the court appointed a different guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the children during the proceedings on the petition to modify.

¶9           From there, it took over a year to get to trial on the petition to modify; trial eventually took place over two days in December 2017. Just a few days before trial was to begin, the GAL issued a report containing his recommendations. Unlike the custody evaluator, the GAL recommended that the custody arrangement remain unchanged, with Father retaining primary physical custody. He explained that, while he understood the evaluator’s “rationale for recommending a change in custody at the time [the] evaluation was performed, over two years [had] passed” since the evaluator conducted her interviews, and he expressed his view that the information on which the evaluator based her conclusions was outdated.

¶10         At trial, Mother (as the petitioner on the petition to modify) presented her case first, and called three witnesses over the first day-and-a-half of trial: herself, Father, and the custody evaluator. At the conclusion of Mother’s case-in-chief, Father made an oral motion to dismiss the petition to modify, arguing that Mother failed to “meet her burden to prove that a significant change in circumstances has taken place.” After hearing argument from both sides, as well as from the GAL, the court granted Father’s motion. The court explained that Father’s relative instability had been constant since before the decree was entered, and therefore was not a change in circumstances; that any violations by Father of the terms of the decree could be resolved in contempt proceedings, and—especially in a case in which “[t]he parties have been in constant conflict since their separation and likely before”—that those violations did not rise to the level of unworkability that would constitute a change in circumstances; and found that there had not been any violence or emotional abuse. The court noted that the parties had been fighting over custody for some thirteen years, and that the fighting had been fairly constant. The court stated that, in such a “high-conflict” case, “if anything, the need to show a change in circumstances [is] even stronger,” and “the need for a permanent decree . . . that people can rely on . . . is that much greater.” A few weeks later, the court entered a written order, drafted by Father’s counsel, dismissing Mother’s petition to modify; that order contained a provision stating that, “[i]n a high conflict divorce such as this one, the need for finality is even greater and therefore the burden to show a material and significant change in circumstances should be higher than normal.”

ISSUE AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶11         Mother now appeals from the district court’s order dismissing her petition to modify. When reviewing such a decision, we review the district court’s underlying findings of fact, if any, for clear error, see Vaughan v. Romander, 2015 UT App 244, ¶ 7, 360 P.3d 761, and we review for abuse of discretion its ultimate determination regarding the presence or absence of a substantial change in circumstances, see Doyle v. Doyle, 2009 UT App 306, ¶ 7, 221 P.3d 888, aff’d, 2011 UT 42, 258 P.3d 553. The district court’s choice of legal standard, however, presents an issue of law that we review for correctness. See id. ¶ 6.

ANALYSIS

¶12         Mother challenges the district court’s dismissal of her petition to modify on two general grounds. First, she contends that the district court employed an incorrect (and overly strict) legal standard in determining whether circumstances had changed sufficiently to justify reopening the governing custody order. Specifically, she asserts that the court did not properly take into account the fact that the decree at issue was stipulated rather than adjudicated, and she takes issue with the statement in the court’s written order that, in “high conflict” cases, the burden of demonstrating a change in circumstances is “higher than normal.” Second, Mother contends that the district court abused its discretion in determining, on the facts of this case, that no substantial and material change in circumstances existed. We address each of these contentions in turn.

A

¶13         Under Utah law, petitions to modify custody orders are governed by a two-part test:

A court order modifying . . . an existing joint legal custody or joint physical custody order shall contain written findings that: (i) a material and substantial change of circumstance has occurred; and (ii) a modification . . . would be an improvement for and in the best interest of the child.

Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.4(2)(b) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019). Because “[t]he required finding of a material and substantial change of circumstances is statutory, . . . [n]either this court nor the supreme court has purported to—or could—alter that requirement.” Zavala v. Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 16, 366 P.3d 422; see also Doyle v. Doyle, 2011 UT 42, ¶ 38, 258 P.3d 553 (“Even an overwhelming case for the best interest of the child could not compensate for a lack of proof of a change in circumstances.”). Thus, “only if a substantial change of circumstances is found should the [district] court consider whether a change of custody is appropriate given the child’s best interests.” Wright v. Wright, 941 P.2d 646, 651 (Utah Ct. App. 1997) (quotation simplified).

¶14         This statutory requirement that a substantial change in circumstances be present before a court may modify a custody order serves two important ends. “First, the emotional, intellectual, and moral development of a child depends upon a reasonable degree of stability.” Elmer v. Elmer, 776 P.2d 599, 602 (Utah 1989). We have previously noted the “deleterious effects of ‘ping-pong’ custody awards” that subject children to ever-changing custody arrangements. See Taylor v. Elison, 2011 UT App 272, ¶ 13, 263 P.3d 448 (quotation simplified). Second, the requirement “is based in the principles of res judicata,” as “courts typically favor the one-time adjudication of a matter to prevent the undue burdening of the courts and the harassing of parties by repetitive actions.” Id. (quotation simplified); see also Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 16 (stating that the statutory change-in­circumstances requirement is “a legislative expression of the principle of res judicata”).

¶15         The change-in-circumstances requirement is itself comprised of two parts. In order to satisfy it, “the party seeking modification must demonstrate (1) that since the time of the previous decree, there have been changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based; and (2) that those changes are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody.” Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 54 (Utah 1982). In this context, however, our case law has drawn something of a distinction between adjudicated custody decrees and stipulated custody decrees, recognizing that “an unadjudicated custody decree” is not necessarily “based on an objective, impartial determination of the best interests of the child,” and therefore the res judicata policies “underlying the changed-circumstances rule [are] at a particularly low ebb.” See Taylor, 2011 UT App 272, ¶ 14 (quotation simplified). In Zavala, we clarified that the change-in-circumstances requirement still applies even in cases involving stipulated (as opposed to adjudicated) custody orders, although we acknowledged that, in some cases, “a lesser showing” of changed circumstances may “support modifying a stipulated award than would be required to modify an adjudicated award.” See 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 17.

¶16         In this case, the court did not specifically discuss the distinction our case law has drawn between stipulated and adjudicated decrees, or the extent to which this decree should be considered stipulated or adjudicated. The court simply applied the change-in-circumstances requirement and found it not met on the facts of this case. In one recent case, we found no error under similar circumstances. See Erickson v. Erickson, 2018 UT App 184, ¶ 21, 437 P.3d 370 (declining to reverse a district court’s determination that no substantial and material change in circumstances had been shown, despite the fact that the district court did not specifically consider “the fact that the underlying custody award was based on a stipulated agreement”).

¶17         But more to the point, we think it unhelpful to view the adjudicated/stipulated dichotomy as entirely binary; instead, in assessing how much “lesser” a showing might be required to satisfy the change-in-circumstances requirement, see Zavala, 2016 UT App 6, ¶ 17, courts should examine the origin of the order in question and analyze the extent to which the order—even if stipulated—reflects the result of robustly contested litigation aimed at ascertaining the best interest of the child.

¶18         We discern no error here, even though the district court did not expressly discuss the origin of the custody decree at issue, because the decree—although entered as a result of a negotiated settlement—was more akin to an adjudicated decree than a non-adjudicated decree. Here, the decree was finalized in April 2008, after more than four years of litigation between the parties, during which both parties were represented by counsel the entire time. The parties had fully litigated not only motions for protective orders, which involved custody determinations made by a court, but also motions for temporary orders before the court commissioner and the district court wherein temporary custody determinations were made. Moreover, the court had appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the children, and in addition a full evaluation had been performed by a neutral court-appointed custody evaluator. The parties did not reach their negotiated settlement in this case until after they had received input from not only the custody evaluator and the guardian ad litem, but also from the commissioner and the court during the temporary orders process. By the time the settlement was reached, four years of litigation had passed and a trial date had been set. In the end, the decree encapsulated, for the most part, the recommendations made by the guardian ad litem and the custody evaluator, and memorialized an arrangement very similar to the one previously ordered by the court on a temporary basis.

¶19         We certainly recognize the potential for injustice with certain types of stipulated custody orders; indeed, this is part of the reason why courts, when considering petitions to modify, retain the flexibility to be less deferential to stipulated custody orders. See Taylor, 2011 UT App 272, ¶ 14 (stating that unadjudicated custody decrees “may in fact be at odds with the best interests of the child” (quotation simplified)). Depending on the situation, our confidence that a stipulated custody decree—at least one that is submitted to the court before receipt of input from judicial officers during the temporary orders process or from custody evaluators or guardians ad litem—will actually be in keeping with the best interest of the child may be comparatively low, especially where neither side is represented by counsel (or, potentially more concerning, when only one side is represented by counsel). Inequalities in negotiating power or financial resources can sometimes result in one parent agreeing to conditions by stipulation that may not be in the long-term best interest of the child.

¶20         But such concerns are not present in a case like this one, where the parties reached a negotiated agreement after fully and robustly participating in the litigation process, with lawyers, for more than four years. The terms of the negotiated custody decree in this case—entered on the eve of a scheduled trial—did not substantially deviate from the terms of the temporary custody order imposed by the court, and were heavily influenced by the recommendations of both the custody evaluator and the guardian ad litem. In this case, therefore, we have relatively high confidence that the custody order was in line with the best interests of the children. Accordingly, we discern no error in the district court’s decision to apply the change-in-circumstances requirement without watering it down to account for the fact that the custody order in question was, technically speaking, stipulated.

¶21         We are more concerned, however, with the district court’s statement in its written order that, in “high conflict” cases, “the burden to show a material and significant change in circumstances should be higher than normal.” The district court offered no citation to any authority supporting this principle in our case law, and we are aware of none. We take this opportunity to clarify that there is no separate standard that courts are to apply in high-conflict cases when considering whether a substantial change of circumstances is present in the context of a petition to modify. Nevertheless, we are not persuaded that the district court’s statement made a material difference to its analysis in this case. In context, especially after reviewing the court’s oral ruling, we view the court’s statement as simply acknowledging that, in high-conflict divorce cases, parties are perhaps more willing to seek modification more often, and that the danger of “ping-pong” custody awards in those cases is therefore proportionately higher.

¶22         In the end, we are convinced, after a review of the full record, that the district court applied the proper two-step analysis to determine whether a substantial and material change in circumstances occurred here. First, the court analyzed whether, “since the time of the previous decree, there have been changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based.” See Hogge, 649 P.2d at 54. Second, the court analyzed whether “those changes are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody.” See id. Because we conclude that the court applied the proper test, we now proceed to analyze whether the court abused its discretion in its application of that test.

B

¶23         In her petition to modify, Mother pointed to three things that she believed led to a substantial and material change in circumstances. First, she contended that Father had been “unable to provide a stable home environment” and find “stable employment.” Second, she contended that Father had “denied [her] physical visitation” to which she was entitled pursuant to the decree. Third, she contended that Father had “become violent with other people” and that “the children have been emotionally abused.” After hearing evidence for a day-and-a-half, the district court concluded that these things did not constitute a substantial and material change in circumstances, finding either that they were occurring, at most, infrequently, or that they had been occurring throughout the litigation and therefore could not constitute a change in circumstances. We conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion in making that determination.

1

¶24         Mother’s first contention was that Father had “been unable to provide a stable home environment” for the children because he had “been evicted from several residences” resulting in the children having to change schools a number of times. In addition, Mother contended that Father had not “had stable employment for the last eight years.” The district court acknowledged that Mother had presented evidence that Father’s “income was questionable and [his] lifestyle was a little bit itinerant.” But the court noted in its oral ruling that this had been the case both “before and after the decree,” and that nothing had changed in this regard. In its written ruling, the court made a finding that it had “not received evidence that there has been a significant and material change in [Father’s] ability to provide the children with a stable home.”

¶25         It is unclear from Mother’s brief whether she even intends to challenge the district court’s factual findings, stating that her “appeal is primarily legal.” But in any event Mother has not carried her burden—if indeed she intended to shoulder that burden—of demonstrating that the court’s factual finding was clearly erroneous. As noted above, Mother alleged as early as 2007—in her pre-decree motion to alter the terms of the court’s temporary custody order—that Father had “moved three times in three years and has not demonstrated stability.” Despite Father’s itinerant nature, the first custody evaluator recommended that primary physical custody be awarded to Father, and the stipulated decree followed that recommendation. Presumably, all of that was taken into account during the litigation that preceded entry of the decree. Moreover, in her own petition to modify filed in 2013, Mother alleged that Father’s employment instability had been an issue “for the last eight years,” dating back to 2005, three years before entry of the decree. Issues that were present prior to the decree, and continue to be present in much the same way thereafter, do not represent a change in circumstances sufficient to justify the reopening of a custody decree. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3­ 10.4(2)(b)(i) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019) (requiring a “change of circumstance” before reopening a custody decree); see also Becker v. Becker, 694 P.2d 608, 610 (Utah 1984) (stating that the rationale behind the change-in-circumstances requirement “is that custody placements, once made, should be as stable as possible unless the factual basis for them has completely changed”). In the end, Mother has not shown that the district court’s finding—that Father’s employment instability and itinerant nature had been present the whole time and therefore did not constitute a substantial change in circumstances—was clearly erroneous.

2

¶26         Mother’s next contention was that Father failed on numerous occasions to facilitate parent-time as required under the divorce decree. The district court found that, while Father may have committed occasional violations of the terms of the decree, “[t]he court has not received evidence that any denial of physical visitation on the part of [Father] was systemic, deliberate, or pathogenic enough to satisfy the requirements of the law in reopening” the decree.

¶27         Ordinarily, when one parent commits a violation of the terms of a divorce decree, the other parent’s remedy lies in contempt. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-6-301(5), -310 (LexisNexis 2018) (categorizing “disobedience of any lawful judgment [or] order” as “contempt[] of the authority of the court,” and authorizing courts to sanction violators); see also, e.g., Clarke v. Clarke, 2012 UT App 328, ¶¶ 24–31, 292 P.3d 76 (resolving one parent’s request for contempt sanctions against the other for asserted violations of a custody order). In most cases, violations of a custody order by one party will not constitute the type of substantial and material change in circumstances that will justify reexamining the propriety of the order. But if the violations are so numerous and pervasive that it becomes evident that the custody arrangement is “not functioning,” then a change in circumstances may have occurred. See Moody v. Moody, 715 P.2d 507, 509 (Utah 1985) (“[T]he nonfunctioning of a joint custody arrangement is clearly a substantial change in circumstances which justifies reopening the custody issue.”); see also Huish v. Munro, 2008 UT App 283, ¶ 13, 191 P.3d 1242 (same).

¶28         In this case, the district court, after hearing Mother’s evidence, made a factual finding that the evidence of Father’s potentially contemptuous behavior was not so overwhelming as to render the decree unworkable. The court noted that the parties had been “in constant conflict since their separation and likely before,” and that they were “still at war” thirteen years after their separation. The court found that, while Father may have violated the decree with regard to parent-time on a few occasions, Father’s violations were not “systemic, deliberate, or pathogenic enough to satisfy the requirements of the law in reopening” the decree.

¶29         As noted above, it is unclear if Mother even intends to challenge the district court’s factual findings, but in any event she has not demonstrated clear error here. The district court’s finding that the decree had not been rendered unworkable as the result of Father’s violations was supported by, among other evidence, the recommendation of the court-appointed GAL, who expressed the view that the custody arrangement was working well enough and should remain unchanged, and that “the children have maintained throughout these proceedings that they are happy with the current arrangement.” Mother has not demonstrated that the district court’s determination about the decree’s workability was clearly erroneous.

3

¶30         Mother’s final contention was that Father had “become violent with other people and the children have been emotionally abused.” After hearing the evidence, the district court found insufficient evidence that Father had been violent or that he had emotionally abused anyone. In her brief, Mother makes no serious effort to challenge this factual finding, and therefore we are unable to find any error therein.

4

¶31         Given that Mother has not mounted a successful challenge to any of the district court’s factual findings, all that remains is for us to examine whether, given these findings, the court abused its discretion in determining that no material and substantial change in circumstances had occurred. See Doyle v. Doyle, 2009 UT App 306, ¶ 7, 221 P.3d 888, aff’d, 2011 UT 42, 258 P.3d 553. And on this record, we have no trouble concluding that the court did not abuse its discretion in making that determination. Many of the issues identified by Mother in her petition—such as Father’s unstable employment and frequent change of residence—had been present from the outset of this case, and were present before the decree was entered; such ever-present conditions cannot constitute a change in circumstances sufficient to reopen a custody decree. Any issues Father had with complying with the terms of the decree were apparently not egregious or pervasive enough to render the custody arrangement unworkable. And the district court, after listening to a day-and-a-half of evidence, did not hear any evidence that Father had acted violently or abusively toward anyone.

¶32         Under these circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Mother had not carried her burden of demonstrating a change in circumstances that was substantial and material enough to justify reexamining the parties’ longstanding custody arrangement. Because Mother did not satisfy the first part of the statutory test for obtaining a modification of a divorce decree, the district court did not err by dismissing her petition.

CONCLUSION

¶33         For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of Mother’s petition to modify.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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To whom do you turn to when the police won’t protect you from your ex?

I am a domestic relations attorney. With this in mind, and if you are convinced that you don’t have enough evidence to obtain a restraining order, my answer to your question is:

You move.

Easier said than done, I know, but it’s still easier (and less discouraging, futile, and frustrating) than trying to force law enforcement officers to help you.

Even if you obtained a court order (ooooooh, a court order!) that “compelled” law enforcement officers to help you, chances are that the court would not enforce the order, if the law enforcement officers to whom it is directed refuse to help you.* Then factor in the time and effort (and money, if you hire an attorney to help you obtain the order) that goes in to seeking such an order, and it makes more sense to invest that time, effort, and money into doing something that works, something that has a much higher potential for success (if by “success” you mean getting away from your stalker/harasser/tormentor to safety and peace).

*Of course, this kind of law enforcement officer is too smart to blatantly refuse to help you. Instead, you’ll get the bureaucratic/administrative run around and the cops will play dumb (“this is a civil matter, ma’am”), so that they maintain plausible deniability. If that doesn’t work, they’ll threaten to arrest you (“disorderly conduct” and “disturbing the peace” are popular threats, as is “false report”) if you try to insist upon them enforcing your order.

Frequently, the best course of action is not to seek vindication through the legal system, but to extricate yourself from it. No, I am clearly not urging to violate the law, I am showing you that the legal system often disappoints. So if you can help yourself better than the legal system can help you (without being an outlaw, of course), then help yourself.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Who-do-you-turn-to-when-the-police-wont-protect-you-from-your-ex-I-dont-have-enough-evidence-for-a-restraining-order-and-he-is-threatening-me-all-the-time-I-feel-like-all-I-can-do-is-move-house-Do-you-have-any/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Can I petition the courts for custody of a homeless child?

Yes. In the jurisdiction where I practice family law, there are several ways to seek and obtain custody of child who is not your biological offspring:
  • petition for guardianship
  • petition to terminate parental rights/petition for adoption
  • request for child protective order

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Can-I-petition-the-courts-for-custody-of-a-child-who-is-homeless/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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What do you do about domestic abuse?

I have not been the victim of domestic violence or abuse, but I have had some clients who are. If you have a good, honest, and responsive police force in your jurisdiction, coupled with the court that is willing to issue protective orders AND enforce them, then police and courts can help.

Regardless of whether the police and courts in your jurisdiction do or not take domestic violence and abuse seriously, you should never rely upon law enforcement or the court’s to protect your life and physical safety. You and you and you alone are best equipped to protect your physical safety and life.

If the police and courts in your jurisdiction will not bring to bear their resources to protect you, then protect yourself. Get away from the abuser, if you can. Yes, run. Stay alive. The National Domestic Violence Hotline | Get Help Today | 1-800-799-7233 provides help for women and for men who are abuse victims.

You can complain all you want about your rights, but that won’t stop a bullet or a fist. Learn how to own and carry and use a gun for self-defense. learn how to secure your home with locks and surveillance cameras and alarm systems.

If you are the victim of domestic violence and/or abuse, report it as quickly as you can after it occurs. If you are threatened with domestic violence, report that too. and if you have any written or recorded evidence of those threats, make sure you share that with law enforcement and with the court. Not only can you report violence or threats of violence, you can take action to protect yourself from future violence by requesting a protective order or civil stalking injunction.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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2019 Utah Legislative Session Makes Keeping a Protective in Place Even Easier! (Boo).

Welcome back to our feature on new laws from the 2019 Utah Legislative Session. There were a lot of changes in family law in 2019, and one amendment was made by Senate Bill 75, which modified provisions relating to dismissal and expiration of a domestic violence protective order.

It used to be that a protective order that had been in effect for at least two years could be dismissed if the court determined the petitioner no longer has a reasonable fear of future harm or abuse. Now that list includes a reasonable fear of future harm, abuse, or domestic violence.

It used to be that a protective order couldn’t be dismissed after two years at the respondent had been convicted of a protective order violation, but now the law has been amended to provide that the order can’t be dismissed if the respondent was convicted of a protective order violation, now the protective order can’t be dismissed if the respondent merely “committed” a protective order violation. In other words, it used to be that a protective order could be dismissed if you committed a protective order violation but didn’t get convicted of it. Now, if it can be proven that you did commit the violation, regardless of whether you were convicted, the protective order stays in place.

Do you suppose that when a respondent moves for a dismissal of his or her protective order, that the petitioner might be tempted to accuse the respondent of having “committed” a protective order violation, even if there’s no record of any conviction? Or am I just being cynical?

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Utah Code, protective order, domestic violence, dismiss, dismissal, violation

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Overcome Prejudice from a Bogus Restraining Order in Divorce

How can you win child custody during a divorce if your spouse puts a restraining order against you, based solely on verbal testimony and not pertaining to the children themselves?

1. The odds are against you, even if you are innocent. It doesn’t matter if you are innocent if the court believes the false allegations against you (and you’d be amazed how willing courts are to believe a good (even a bad) sob story, especially one coming from a woman against a man).

a. If the court believes the false allegations against you, despite the preponderance of evidence against those false allegations, you may have the option of filing an appeal, but most people don’t appeal because the odds are against you winning on appeal, and appeals are too costly and discouraging for most people.

2. The best way I know to get a wrongfully issued restraining order dismissed or reversed is to prove that it was wrongfully issued. And how do you do that?

a. By providing—as early in the process as possible—evidence to the court that:

i. that you have an alibi;

ii. your spouse is lying;

iii. that your history and good character simply make your spouse’s claims unbelievable.

b. by getting a lawyer (and cooperating fully with that lawyer) who knows the legal system and how to work it (ethically) to your advantage.

c. You will surely be tempted to fight fire with fire and resort to lying and cheating to be vindicated. Don’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and if that’s not reason enough for you, lying and cheating in your defense usually backfire. If you have children, getting down into the muck will do them irreparable damage.

3. The next best way to get rid of a restraining order: be penitent (even if you’re not guilty). This is a hard pill to swallow (as well it should be), but it may be your only viable option, if you value getting rid of the protective order over your pride. Don’t get me wrong: it’s unfair for innocent people to have to grovel and suffer the indignity, and many may interpret your groveling as an “admission” of guilt, but it may be the only way out. So what might this entail?:

a. jump—cheerfully and timely—through all the hoops the court sets in your path toward getting the restraining order lifted;

b. go to counseling or therapy and complete courses and read books (and report on reading them) that teach “parenting skills” and “anger management” and “conflict resolution”;

c. go to church. You should do this anyway. A good church does wonders for cheering you up and encouraging you and showing you how to be a better person (no matter how great you may be already), but if the only reason you go is to show the court that you’re a “changed man/woman,” so be it.

4. Even in the face of this injustice, count your many, many other blessings. Don’t let evil win by losing hope. Keep the faith. If you are going through hell, keep going. Lean on your friends and loved ones for support.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/How-can-you-win-child-custody-during-a-divorce-if-your-spouse-puts-a-restraining-order-against-you-based-solely-on-verbal-testimony-and-not-pertaining-to-the-children-themselves/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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