Living with the Enemy: A Re-cap of Domestic Violence

Not all Domestic Violence cases are prosecuted in the criminal court system in California. There are also means of protecting yourself and your children in the Family Law courtroom as well. Domestic Violence allegations are taken very seriously both inside and outside of the courthouse.

There are a few steps to understanding the process of a Domestic Violence case. It is important for you to physically remove yourself from the situation for your safety and the safety of your children. If necessary, contact the police and have them take a report of any specific incidents. But you should know that the Family Court does not necessarily require police records when considering a Domestic Violence matter. If you are scared do not hesitate in contacting the police. They are there for your protection.

A common misconception of Domestic Violence cases is that there needs to be a physical assault in order for you to request any intervention by the court. While a physical assault by your spouse (or partner) certainly qualifies as a reason to request a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, there are other circumstances that the Family Law courts consider as well.

These circumstances can include disturbing your peace, physical intimidation, breaking objects, punching walls, throwing things, blocking doorways, taking phones (or preventing you from calling the police), taking car keys, making verbal threats, hurting pets (or threatening to hurt pets), repeated harassing phone calls, repeated harassing text messages or emails, using your online identity to harass or embarrass you, and forcing sexual intimacy.

There are certainly other circumstances in which you can obtain a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, but these are just the most common examples. If you have any questions, you should contact an attorney for a consultation and be as forthright as possible with them. Even if your children are only exposed to Domestic Violence by being present in the home it can have a very detrimental effect on them. “Non-violent” yelling and cursing can create a very toxic and unhealthy environment for children.

When you decide that you want to file a request for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, another factor to consider is timing. In order for the court to take immediate action, it is important for your request be made as soon as possible after the event(s). First and most importantly, if you are being harassed or intimidated you should have at least a Temporary Restraining Order in place for your protection. Secondly, from a legal stand point, if you wait too long to file the request the court will wonder if the threat is as much of an emergency as you feel it is. Making the request in a timely manor will only help your case.

After making the decision to file a request for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (whether by yourself or with the help of an attorney), it is important for you to have as much evidence on your side as possible. The court always looks at both sides with some degree of skepticism. This may include copies of texts, emails or phone logs to display harassing behavior; photos of holes in walls, broken phones or any damage done to objects around your home. Lastly and most importantly, police reports and photos of bruising or physical injuries inflicted on your person. Having documented evidence helps substantiate your case in front of the court. The court will actually conduct a hearing before making a decision, and your credibility is key.

After you file a Request for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order in California, the judge will either grant or deny a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and set a hearing for a longer-term Restraining Order at a later date (approximately 21 days from the date of filing). Once you receive conformed (stamped) copies of the documents from court it is important for you to keep a copy on your person, in your vehicle, at the local police department, and at the children’s school (if they are protected parties). If a permanent Restraining Order is granted after the hearing you would maintain and provide updated documents as well.

During that time when the Temporary Restraining Order is in place, it is important that you have NO CONTACT with the Respondent — unless a “peaceful contact” is ordered (usually for custody exchanges if there are kids involved). If you file a TRO and then decide to have a friendly dinner with the Respondent during that time the Judge may wonder if you truly need the court’s intervention.

As usual, it is important for you to be very candid with your attorney and the court about your situation. Domestic Violence allegations and cases are taken very seriously in the eyes of the Family Court. And remember, a Restraining Order is only a piece of paper – you must also take practical measures to enhance your security.