It was a privilege to offer a recent presentation to the Minnesota Judicial Branch concerning domestic abuse issues – my third invitation to teach over the last two years.
Over 130 judges and law clerks were in attendance to learn about the four types of cases that can result from an allegation of child abuse: (1) custody disputes; (2) an order for protection; (3) assault charges; and (4) child protective services investigation.
Allegations of harming a child can have a wide range of consequences within the court system.
In terms of family court, divorce and paternity actions take into account acts of domestic violence against a child. One of the twelve “best interest of the child” factors involves the question of abuse and its impact upon a child.
Concurrently, a parent accused of harming a child may face criminal charges – usually assault. Domestic assault charges can vary from fifth degree to first degree assault, along with malicious punishment. The legal framework in criminal court varies substantially from family court, including a heightened “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof and the right to a jury trial.
Additionally, the parent who assaults a child may face an Order for Protection under the Minnesota Domestic Abuse Act. An OFP case is a civil (not criminal) action that makes otherwise legal contact illegal. The burden of proof is a mere “preponderance of the evidence.”
Finally, those accused of mistreating a minor may face investigation by child protective services. The purpose of the investigation is to uncover the facts and create a safety plan that, hopefully, cures the situation that led to maltreatment of the child. Protective services cases stem from the juvenile court system.