Every year, our legislature works hard to make changes to the law that help or address issues that have been raised or addressed by citizens.
How are Our Pets Now Protected?
In 2022, the legislature realized that many abusers use pets or animals as a way to abuse their victims and exercise power and control. Previous to the updates in the statute, there was no meaningful protection that a victim could seek against an abuser, however, the updates in the statute now recognize the abusive power and control that a domestic abuser can exercise by using their victim’s love for their pets.
Section 455.010 now indicates that purposefully or knowingly causing or attempting to cause or threatening to cause physical injury to a pet with the intent to control, punish, intimidate or distress the petitioner is now a protected action. Section 455.010 also now defines a pet as a living creature maintained by a household member for companionship and not for commercial purposes.
This is important if you believe that your abuser is using threats of harm toward your pets in a mechanism or effort to control you, threaten you, scare you or intimidate you. It now allows you to use that as a ground to seek an order of protection.
In section 455.032, a Respondent can now be enjoined (prevented) from abusing a pet.
What other changes did the legislature make related to stalking?
This is important! They have removed the previous requirement for a “pattern of conduct comprised of… (certain acts)” and amended it to now say that conduct can include acts in which the stalker directly, indirectly or through a third party follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens or communicates to a person by any action, method or service. This is noteworthy because many stalkers use third parties such as family members or even shared/mutual children to determine the activities of their victim.
What are the “Serious Danger” findings that the Legislature has Now Added?
An initial order of protection can be effective for a minimum of 180 days, but no more than one year. However, according to 455.040, if the Court makes findings of “serious danger” to the physical or mental health of the petitioner or other minor household member, the court can enter an order for a longer period. The court has to have an evidentiary hearing and make specific written findings that the respondent poses a serious danger to the physical or mental health of the petitioner. In such case, the order of protection shall be valid for at least two years and up to ten years, at the court’s discretion. A renewal of the order of protection with “serious danger” findings can be sought and renewed for a minimum of two years, but up to a period of the life of the respondent. The court also has the ability in situations where serious danger findings exist to find that renewals of the full order of protection should be done automatically.
How Will the Court Determine “Serious Danger?”
The case law has not yet been developed related to this new area of the law. Generally, lawyers and legal scholars believe that the “serious danger” burden will be shown with the weight of the evidence, the behavior the respondent has engaged in, the history of stalking or causing fear to the petitioner, the respondent’s criminal record, whether any previous orders of protection have been issued, whether the respondent has been found guilty of dangerous felonies and whether the respondent has previously violated orders and/or terms of probation or parole, particularly if the petitioner was the victim of those crimes.
What Does This Mean For you?
If you are the victim of domestic violence, abuse, stalking or other criminal behavior, it is important that you work with a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process of seeking the maximum protection to which you are entitled to under the law. If you believe you need assistance with seeking an order of protection, please call our firm today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation to discuss and understand the options and rights available to you under the law.