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Court defines residency for spouses fleeing abuse

DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a domestic abuse protection issued to a woman against her husband, rejecting his argument that it wasn’t valid because she sought the order in a county where she had sought refuge only days earlier.

The case required the court to determine for the first time the definition of residency in the context of a spouse fleeing alleged abuse. In this instance, the abuse was reported in southern Iowa’s Decatur County while the petition was filed in Howard County, about 250 miles away.

The justices concluded that anyone seeking a domestic order of protection only needs to demonstrate that they currently live in the county in which they’re seeking the order.

In researching Iowa law, the justices found various residency requirements for different purposes.

An earlier Iowa law required a six-month minimum residency to obtain a divorce, and one section of the Iowa Code includes a one-year, good-faith minimum residency requirement for a petitioner filing for divorce from a spouse living in another state.

A relaxed residency requirement is appropriate in cases of alleged domestic abuse, the court concluded.

“A more stringent legal residency requirement would discourage victims of domestic abuse from moving away from their abuser’s home county or delay relief for those who do move to another county,” the court said. “As the facts of this case demonstrate, victims fleeing abuse often are required to seek temporary shelter while they are displaced and their lives are in disarray.”

The case affirms the protective order Teri Root obtained against her husband of four years, Talton Toney.

The Supreme Court opinion explains the background of the case, saying Root fled their farmhouse in Decatur County near the Missouri border Oct. 7, 2011, after Toney allegedly choked her with a belt with three of her five children watching. She took the children and drove to Howard County, just across the state line from her hometown of Preston, Minn., where her parents live.

After receiving medical care, she filed a petition for relief from domestic abuse.

Toney attempted to move the case back to Decatur County saying Root had only lived in Howard County for three days. In court documents he said any hearings should be held in Decatur County.

A district court judge found Root was residing in Howard County and entered judgment in her favor and issued a final domestic abuse protective order.

The Supreme Court affirmed that decision.

Court records show the divorce was completed in October 2012.

Toney faces charges for violating a no-contact order and trespass-intent to commit a hate crime from June 28. Root’s attorney, Michelle R. Mackel-Wiederanders, said he broke into to Root’s home in northern Iowa.

He has entered not guilty pleas. Court hearings are scheduled for January.

Toney’s attorney, Thomas Hurd, declined to discuss the domestic abuse allegations or other criminal charges.

He said the case was largely about the increased costs and unfairness when cases are moved hundreds of miles away.

“The significance is that any future challenges will have to be based on whether or not it’s fair to litigate in a particular forum,” he said. “There’s a need for fairness in these things based on what’s at stake.”

Root’s attorney applauded the ruling.

“The significance of the case is that it says victims of domestic abuse can flee and seek protection in other counties as long as there is some connection to being there in terms of safety,” said Mackel-Wiederanders. “I think it’s an excellent case and outcome for victims of domestic abuse so they aren’t forced to stay close to their abuser.”

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