One of the most fundamental norms in our judicial system is that courts need to hear from both parties on a legal issue before granting any form of legal relief. Nevertheless, rules of civil procedure permit a vulnerable party to appear in court ex parte (without prior notice to the other party), to obtain a temporary order prohibiting a wrongful action about to be taken that will cause irreparable harm. A classic example of this is when a person runs into court because a demolition crew is starting to set up to demolish a building they have built and claim to own. Due to the time it would take to provide prior notice of the hearing for the requested relief to the party responsible for this action, the harm to be avoided would likely take place. Consequently, in this instance, a court would be willing to hold an ex parte hearing to determine whether to grant a temporary restraining order.3 This Article focuses on ex parte orders in the context of domestic violence. It is easy to see the potential imminent harm--to see the “wrecking ball in motion”--in cases where demolition crews are starting to demolish buildings, but what happens in domestic violence cases when the court is unable to see the imminent harm--the “wrecking ball in motion”--or how giving notice can set-off that wrecking ball into motion?
In the context of domestic violence, ex parte orders of protection are intended to protect survivors of domestic violence from further acts of abuse, including violence, when they attempt to safely leave an abusive intimate partner. This Article explores the critical question of the extent to which judges “see the wrecking ball in motion” when they make their rulings in this context. We contend that when judges do not understand the realities of domestic violence, in particular, the counter-intuitive aspects of domestic violence, or when a victim acts in a manner against a held gender stereotype, the judges are much less likely to see the “wrecking ball in motion” and are more likely to deny ex parte orders of protection that they should be granting.
In Section I, we note the general laws that apply to obtaining ex parte restraining orders in non-domestic violence cases, the strong norm against ex parte orders, and consider how these norms may impact how judges rule in ex parte order of protection cases for survivors of domestic violence.In Section II, we explore the various statutory standards applied among the fifty states as conditions for survivors of domestic violence to obtain ex parte orders of protection. We compare these requirements to the general laws on ex parte restraining orders and consider the possible reasons for the different approaches. We also briefly touch upon which of these statutory standards best address the realities of domestic violence laid out in Section III. In Section III, we discuss the often counter-intuitive realities of domestic violence. We analyze how that, gendered stereotypes, and other cognitive phenomenon can hinder how judges assess the credibility of those who allege they are “survivors of domestic violence” in need of an ex parte order of protection. We also analyze how these realities and cognitive phenomenon can thwart judicial assessment of the likelihood of future abuse. In Section IV, we focus on cases among the fifty states where the petitioner has alleged abuse that raises a danger of further abuse and analyze how judges have interpreted and applied the different statutory standards for an ex parte order of protection in those cases. We also share the results from a survey of domestic violence service providers in Chicago, Illinois, on the extent those service providers observed judges to deny an ex parte order of protection due to a delay in seeking the order of protection and due to the petitioner failing to state that he/she “feared” the respondent. We also consider how certain cognitive phenomena such as uncertainty discounting, gendered stereotyping, following scripts, and other forms of heuristics may be causing judges in the cases reviewed, and in the empirical study, to fail to grant orders of protection as they should in these cases. In Section V, we propose law reforms to better protect survivors of domestic violence seeking ex parte orders of protection in light of the realities of domestic violence and the cognitive heuristics judges use when ruling in these cases. We also consider in this section the due process rights of those alleged to be abusive intimate partners, and what is appropriate and fair in light of what is at stake for each of the parties from an adverse ruling.