Family Law

Dealing with Domestic Abuse

Every year in the United States, between one to four million domestic abuse incidents occur. It's difficult to know the exact amount because agencies report these domestic incidents differently. Also, many incidents are never reported at all for a variety of reasons.

In the past, police rarely got involved in domestic disputes. They usually left it up to the families to work things out. However, this method let abusers get away with violence without any legal consequences. Victims were unable to legally protect themselves.

Domestic disputes are handled differently today. There are legal protections in place to help victims of abuse. All states have laws that make domestic violence a crime. Even the federal government has passed domestic violence laws. One example is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This?law increased the criminal penalties for violent crimes against women.

The Basics of Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence usually involves physical abuse. However, harassment, threats and emotional abuse are part of domestic violence. They're ways to dominate and control another person.

Domestic abuse isn't limited to a particular race or economic class. It can be found in all types of relationships. Anyone can be a victim. Although the large majority of domestic incidents happen to women, men can also be victims.

Police have the right in many states to arrest individuals who are suspected of abusing others even if no one wants to file charges. This authority allows them to protect any potential victims after they leave.

Victims also have the right to file charges against the abuser in civil court. This allows them to recover money damages for any financial harm from the emotional and physical abuse.

Help for the Victim

Even though it may be difficult, victims should try to leave abusive relationships. States have free legal agencies and shelters that'll help people in need. They can also call the National Domestic Violence hotline for help at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Victims should make sure they have copies of important documents and other items, such as money or spare keys, to leave with a friend or a relative.

Restraining Orders Stop the Contact

One legal option is to get a restraining order against the abuser. This order protects the victim by making it illegal for the abuser to contact her. The victim can also get an emergency temporary restraining order if she's in immediate danger. The emergency order can be obtained from the local police department.

Most states make it a crime for a person to?buy a gun if there's a restraining order against him for abuse. The VAWA makes it a federal crime to violate a restraining order by crossing states lines to harass or abuse a victim.

Restraining Order Process

Where to Start

An emergency temporary order doesn't last very long. It may only be a few days. To get an order that last longer,?the victim must file a petition with the court. Victims can usually file a petition without talking to a lawyer. However, a lawyer will be able to help during the process and explain all her rights.

Once a petition is filed for a restraining order, a hearing will take place,?normally within two weeks. The alleged abuser must be notified of the hearing. He's entitled to appear in court to testify, too.

At the hearing, the victim must explain to the judge why she needs a restraining order. She can use many types?of evidence?and documents. Some examples include:

  • Medical records
  • Witness testimony
  • Photographs
  • Police reports

Issuing and Enforcing the Order

If the victim?receives a restraining order, the police department must be informed. It'll want to know who the abuser is and where he's not entitled to go. This information is entered into the police computers.

The restraining order is valid in every state and can last anywhere from three months to three years.

Your home is a?safe haven. You and your family should feel loved and safe there. Don't let an abusive partner take that from you. Take advantage of the legal tools available to you to end the abuse.?

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Should I report domestic abuse if someone is being abused regardless of how it will affect the family? Should I talk to the victim first?
  • How do I protect my children if my spouse is abusing me or them? Will my spouse get to see my children while we wait for a criminal trial?
  • What advantages are there to having an attorney if I am the victim of domestic violence?
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