United States: Minnesota Supreme Court Reverses Broad Interpretation of Domestic Abuse Act
Monday, August 13, 2012 10:30 AM

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions that had granted an Order for Protection (OFP) to a father petitioning on behalf of his minor son.  The majority  rejected the district court and appellate court's interpretation of the Domestic Abuse Act as too broad in a four to three decision.  The Court of Appeals had construed the statute to mean that domestic abuse has to occur in the household of but not necessarily against the person on whose behalf the OFP is filed in order for an OFP to be granted. 

In this case, the child was living with his mother, who had separated from the father, in his grandparents’ house.  The court found that the child’s grandfather had slapped his mother on more than one occasion but that the child himself had not suffered harm in his grandparents’ house.  The court acknowledged evidence of domestic abuse between the child’s mother and father as well as hostility between the father and the child’s grandfather.  These facts were not disputed, and the child’s father’s argued that he should be granted the OFP to protect the child from future potential abuse and from the harm of witnessing abuse.  The issue before the Supreme Court was whether an OFP could be issued under the Domestic Abuse Act for a minor child who has never been found by the court to be a victim of abuse himself. 
Domestic abuse advocates considered the majority’s decision to limit the Domestic Abuse Act’s relief to direct victims of domestic violence a victory for victims.  According to the majority opinion, “Allowing courts to grant an OFP on behalf of a nonvictim undermines the autonomy of domestic abuse victims.”  For example, if a mother were to take her child to live with her brother in order to escape an abusive father, the father could try to find some evidence of abuse on the uncle’s part even if it did not occur in the presence of the child or the mother, and seek an OFP to remove the child from the mother’s care. Such an interpretation could undermine victims' efforts to escape a violent partner and rebuild their lives.
The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project, and the Battered Women’s Justice Project submitted an amicus brief opposing the issuance of an OFP in this case. 

Compiled from: State of Minnesota Supreme Court opinion A10-1425, Office of Appellate Courts, (8 August 2012).