Domestic Violence: What Is Reasonable Fear?

In my last post on the subject, I briefly discussed how the nature and circumstances of an allegation of domestic violence can affect whether the Court is likely to find in favor of the petitioning party.

The essential questions the Court will ask when reviewing a Petition for Personal Protection Order are:

1) Do the allegations contained within the complaint, if true, meet any of the prohibited behaviors described within MCL 400.1501(1); and

2) Is the alleged behavior such that a reasonable person would believe that the incident has occurred?

Reasonable[ness] is shown by facts that “would justify a fair-minded person of average intelligence to believe” that an incident has occurred. See: People v Richardson, 204 Mich App 71, 79, 514 NW2d 503 (1994).

The Court is not only looking for the most extreme cases of abuse. In fact, many people who are the victims of domestic violence don't consider what has happened/is happening to them to be violence. These people are the most vulnerable, but also the least likely to seek the aid of the Court.

The opposite side of this figurative 'coin' are those who are aware of what personal protection orders can do, and seek to obtain one without a need. This type of behavior is why a reasonableness test is included within the statutory framework for PPOs. There are many instances where a behavior, especially hostile behaviors, may lead to someone feeling uncomfortable without domestic violence (as described by Michigan law) having occurred. Examples include: someone raising their voice at their family member, throwing a tantrum or threatening a divorce proceeding. While perhaps very unpleasant, the example behaviors would not be considered threatening in a manner which constitutes domestic violence to most reasonable people. It is the Court's responsibility to review petitions for personal protection orders, and based on the incidents reported within the petition, make a determination whether the behavior as alleged would cause a reasonable person to feel threatened or in danger.

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