Court defines residency for spouses fleeing abuse

DES MOINES – 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.

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.