Military Protective Orders

In addition to a Civilian Protective Order, a military service member may also be subject to a Military Protective Order (“an MPO”) issued by his or her Commanding Officer (or “CO”).  An MPO is an order issued to a service member to remain away from his spouse, children, or home, because he or she is suspected of abuse.  Similar to a civilian Protective Order, the intent is to separate the parties to avoid any further violence. 

Unlike a civilian Protective Order, the service member is not entitled to a hearing or any other due process.  If a military spouse makes an accusation of abuse and the CO believes her, then the CO may issue an MPO removing the service member from his home. In response, the service member can provide information to the CO to contest the imposition of an MPO and request that it be rescinded.  However, it is left to the CO’s discretion whether to rescind the MPO.

Family Advocacy and Private Counseling:

The military’s Family Advocacy Program (“FAP”) provides family services; including counseling. A referral to FAP is frequently the first thing that occurs after an MPO is issued.  The intent is to help the parties reconcile or receive counseling or other help with their issues; including alcohol abuse or anger management counseling.

Typically, a case worker will interview the person alleging abuse and take her statement.  Children and other witnesses are sometimes interviewed as well. Frequently, the service member will be advised by legal counsel to decline to make a statement as any statement made to a FAP counselor could be used against him at a court-martial, administrative board hearing and the statement could be given to the service member’s command.

Case Review Subcommittee Findings:

A Case Review Subcommittee (CRSC) consisting of the case worker and other FAP members; including a counselor, a command representative and others will review the information assembled by the FAP caseworker to decide whether to substantiate the accusation of abuse and what services to recommend to the family. The standard for substantiating abuse is supposed to be “by a preponderance of the evidence” but the rules of evidence do not apply at these closed-door meetings.

A CRSC may “substantiate” a finding of abuse without any evidence other than the spouse’s accusation.  I have heard CRSC panel members excuse the lack of evidence supporting a finding of abuse by stating that the CRSC is not a court of law but only recommends services. However, a substantiated finding of child abuse or spousal abuse and a recommendation for alcohol counseling or anger management counseling can have a tremendously negative impact on the service member’s career. 

The findings of the CRSC are forwarded to the service member’s command and the service member is advised of the findings.  He or she is encouraged to seek out the services recommended.  If the service member has a security clearance, the CRSC’s findings are also sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to evaluate if the service member can still be trusted with the nation’s secrets.  Also, the service member’s performance evaluation will likely be affected by the accusation of abuse which has been “substantiated” by the CRSC.  

While the CRSC’s findings are not relevant in a civilian divorce or child custody hearing (and should be objected to if offered as evidence), the accuser’s attorney will almost certainly attempt to make the judge aware of the CRSC’s “substantiated abuse” finding.  The intention is to inform the civilian judge that a military committee has concluded that the service member is an abuser.  Thus, the CRSC’s findings can also adversely impact the custody and support determination in the civilian family court, as well.