Ungoverned: Restraining Order Laws in Arkansas

Posted on May 29, 2014



I’ve combed the Internet in recent weeks for motion-to-dismiss forms applicable to restraining orders issued in the 50 states. For Arkansas, there’s nothing to be found. Zip. If that weren’t suggestive enough that the process is a lock, consider the above entry excerpted from a 2011 Arkansas Court Bulletin.

This means an accuser may be awarded exclusive entitlement to the family residence; sole custody of children; a monthly stipend from the former breadwinner, who may find himself out of a job subsequent to being issued a “domestic abuse” restraining order; and reimbursement of costs. Filing for a protection order, in other words, may gain a plaintiff everything and cost her (or sometimes him) nothing—whether the allegations it’s based on are true, hyped, or lies.

The case commentary (which you’ll observe publicly discloses the names of the parties to the action) concerns a man who was served with a notice to appear in court to answer allegations of “domestic abuse” six days thence.

Rough translation: “Dear sir, you’re expected in a courtroom next week to respond to allegations that you beat your wife.”

For people who know nothing about restraining order processes, appreciate that this man was given less than a week’s time to prepare a defense against obviously serious charges with obviously serious repercussions. In six days, he was supposed to come to grips with public allegations that may have horrified him, procure an attorney’s services, gather relevant evidence and testimony, etc.

Six days.

The bulletin reports that the man “sought a continuance [postponement], which was denied.” He didn’t attend the hearing. The commentary doesn’t indicate a reason. His request to have the order set aside, because the expectation of an immediate response didn’t conform to the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, was also denied. Why? Because the Arkansas Domestic Abuse Act trumps the rules of civil procedure.

This case exemplifies why restraining order adjudications strike so many people as Kafkaesque: “I move—.” “No.” “Then—.” “No.” “But—.” “The rules don’t apply in your case, sir, and we don’t negotiate our decisions.”

Defendants’ being railroaded, of course, is nothing extraordinary. “Emergency” restraining orders may allow respondents only a weekend to prepare before having to appear in court to answer allegations—very possibly false allegations—that have the potential to permanently alter the course of their lives.

Extraordinary is the Arkansas courts’ openly and nonchalantly recognizing in a bulletin that their protective order process is “not governed by the rules.”

Its proceedings are “special.”

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