What can I do if I am a victim of domestic violence?

domestic violence

Are you being physically or sexually abused or threatened by a family or household member, or do you fear such abuse?

The law protects you if you are being abused or threatened by your spouse, former spouse, or another family member who is or was living in the same household as you the law protects you from abuse by a person with whom you have a child in common. You need not be married to the abuser or related to be protected under the law. And all courts in Florida have applied the law to homosexual partners and relationships.

The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by people who are known to their victims. The source of the violence is frequently a jealous ex-lover, a disgruntled employee, an unstable neighbor, an abusive family member, or some other person who is closely linked to the victim. Victims of these types of crimes are often aware of the perpetrator’s violent tendencies. Emotions wreak havoc with your feelings. You or your partner lose it, snap, and become physically hostile. The law no longer tolerates it.

The law on domestic violence thus provides potential victims with a device to protect themselves from falling prey to the violent acts of others. That device is known as a “restraining order” . It can be obtained by anyone who has a legitimate reason to fear that another person may do harm to their person or property. Restraining orders provide immediate protection to those people who are in danger of becoming the victims of criminal activity.

What does the law say?

If you are the victim of domestic violence, or repeat violence, you may ask the state attorney to file a criminal complaint against the assailant. You also have the right to go to court and file a petition requesting an injunction for protection from domestic violence which may include, but need not be limited to , provisions which restrain the abuser from further acts of abuse; direct the abuser to leave your household; prevent the abuser from entering your residence; school, business, or place of employment; award you custody of minor child or children; and direct the abuser to pay support to you and the minor children if the abuser has a legal obligation to do so. The Court can require counseling, or fashion any necessary relief it deems appropriate.

How do you get a restraining order?

The first step in acquiring a restraining order is to contact either the clerk of court or your local law enforcement agency. If you have good reason to fear another person and you wish to obtain a restraining order against that person, they will provide you with the necessary forms and will assist you in filling them out properly. Once completed and approved by the court, you will immediately receive the protection of the restraining order for a preliminary period of up to 15 days.

A sheriff’s deputy will then serve the restraining order on the person against whom it is being imposed. After being served with the restraining order, if that person has any unlawful contact with you, at your residence or your place of business, he or she will be subject to arrest. If that person violates the terms of the restraining order, you must call the police immediately, and have in your possession a copy of that restraining order to present to law enforcement.

Sometimes a person who feels he is innocent is the target of a restraining order. At the initial stages, the courts tend to favor the complaining party though. They figure that the restraining order is a protection against domestic violence, and that if you were not going to do anything wrong to another, you are not victimized by being told to stay away from another person. In either case, you must obey the restraining order.

Within 15 days of receiving the restraining order, another hearing will be scheduled before a Judge. This hearing allows the Judge to hear both sides of the story and make a decision about whether the restraining order should remain in effect for an extended period of time. It is very important that you attend this hearing to ensure that you continue to receive the protection of your restraining order. If you fail to attend, the Judge will dissolve the order and you will no longer be protected.

It is usually a good idea to hire a lawyer to accompany you to this hearing. A skilled lawyer will be able to make a concise and powerful presentation of the relevant facts in your case. My office has assisted numerous people in obtaining the protection of restraining orders. If you would like to discuss the possibility of my office assisting you in this regard, please feel free to call and arrange a free consultation with one of the attorneys.

What to do after you have obtained a restraining order?

1) If the person who you have the restraining order against makes any effort to have contact or communications with you, call the police immediately. Advise the officer who responds that the individual has violated a restraining order.

2) If you continue to be harassed or threatened by someone, keep a log or written record of that activity, including dates, times and witnesses. A well documented case is always easier to prove in court.

3) Once you obtain a restraining order, always keep a copy of it with you so you can show it to the police should there be any problems.

4) Stay away from the person who you have the restraining order against. Even though the restraining order does not ordinarily prohibit you from having voluntary contact with the other person, if you choose to have such contact you will jeopardize any future attempt you may make to enforce that restraining order, or secure another in the future. If you reconcile with the other person and resume contact, your restraining order will not be as easy to enforce in a court of law. Although it might still be technically valid, you may have compromised its effectiveness.