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Like A Puppet On A String

Protection Orders are powerful tools of control in the hands of an abusive spouse, as Mike* found out.
*All names and identifying details in this article have been changed.

Even though Mike had doubts about his relationship with Charlene* he had planned to “stick it out” for the sake of his 7 months old son.

“I realised that wasn’t going to work when a police officer come to the door to serve a trespass notice.” He thought it was “typically melodramatic Charlene” that she hadn’t simply asked him to move out.

Charlene and Mike had two other children living with them from an earlier marriage of her, and they had a small home business that they ran together.

“From birth, we had jointly raised Simon*. I had taken an equal share of everything except the breastfeeding.

We had never negotiated this. It was just assumed that we were both his parents so we would both look after him.”

But Mike recalls witnessing his stepchildren being badly abused several times.

“At one occasion [her teenage daughter] was lying on the floor in embryo position while Charlene was kicking and swearing at her. I tried to stop her by wrapping my arms around her from behind, trying not to put any more aggro, into the situation. But then of course she had a go at me, punching me in the ribs with full force.

“I had never raised a hand to her, our son or my stepchildren”, says Mike, but nevertheless Charlene was the one to take out a protection order. “She merely had to claim that she was afraid of me.”

Now, three years later, she is still using his access to Simon to maintain power and control over him, restricting his access at will.

She had named Simon in the protection order and “acted as if I were some threat to him. She would only give me supervised access of him and I went from seeing him 168 hours a week to 3!”

He says that Charlene knew that at least for the first few months after their separation “those precious three hours were what I lived for”, and often she claimed Simon was “sick” when she was angry with Mike about something.

When Mike filed a defense to the protection order, she shifted supervision from their friends’ place to Barnardos “as a punishment”.

“I think that Barnardos supervised access scheme must remain the most humiliating experience of my 33 years on this planet. They made clear that I had no rights, only obligations. I signed a contract which they pushed in front of me, but I soon learned that though I was bound by its terms, they weren’t.”

His lawyer told him not to “make waves”. “So for the Nth time I swallowed my self-respect and did what I was told; Bring no toys, no books, no presents, no food, no drinks. Take photos only with permission, and not ‘too many.’ Don’t bother bringing spare nappies.

You aren’t allowed to change them. You may not bring a friend or support person. You will be watched one-on-one at close distance the entire time you are here. The person who is watching you will not necessarily make an effort to be friendly or say much more than hello.

If you move around the room, they will follow you. If they don’t like the weather outside, they will tell you to come in. If they don’t like the way you are holding your baby, they will tell you to change it. If you cause any problems whatsoever, they will not hesitate to ring the police.”

Defending the protection order was very important to Mike. He wanted his name cleared. He couldn’t believe someone could use the Domestic Violence Act as a tool of aggression and get away with it.

But “shortly before the hearing my wife withdrew her application. I should have been happy, but instead I felt betrayed. I had lost my chance to vindicate myself in court.” – and he was seriously out of pocket because of the legal costs incurred so far.

He had also lost any chance of getting custody of his son and protecting him from Charlene’s aggression. “[She] had used the seven months the protection order was out against me to establish herself as the ‘main caregiver’ and the one with the ‘primary bond’ “, principal considerations for custody cases in Court.

Mike still suffers from the very restricted access he is being given.

“My first-born son. The baby I delivered.Now I am his McDonald’s dad. I hope one day we can push aside our paper cup lunches and build a future as deep and as real as the love I have always held for him”

Next: What I Couldn’t Do…

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