Protect Yourself from Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is out of control.  The following statistics are alarming…and they are more than four years old…and the problem is not diminishing:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. To put this in perspective, in one year, this equates to more than 10 million people.
  •  Every 9 seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.*
  • 43% of dating college women report experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.**

The Domestic Violence Act

North Carolina has recognized the severity of the domestic violence problem by enacting NCGS 50B, the Domestic Violence Act.  This statute defines domestic violence as committing one or more of the following upon a person (or child) with whom the perpetrator has or has had a personal relationship:

  • “Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury,”
  •  “Placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party’s family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, as defined in G.S. 14-277.3A, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress”
  • The commission of certain sex-related crimes.

What Defines Personal Relationship?

The statute defines “personal relationship” and protects the following victims:

  • Current and any former spouses.
  • Persons of the opposite sex who are, or were, living together.
  • Persons who are related as parents and children and including grandparents.
  • Parents who both have a child in common.
  • Current or former household members.
  • Persons of the opposite sex who are, or were, dating each other.

Note the absurdity that same-sex relationships are not covered by this statute (yet) unless the relationship falls within the purview of one of the above criteria not confined to the opposite sex.

How to Take Action Against Domestic Violence

Woman crying next to bedIf you are a victim of domestic violence, then to obtain the domestic violence protective order (DVPO), you must file a Complaint at your local County Courthouse.  If the Courthouse is closed you may file the Complaint with the county magistrate, usually located at the county jail.  Forms for the Complaint are available at the Courthouse.  Unlike other lawsuits, there is no filing fee for this Complaint.

The Complaint is where you identify the perpetrator, explain the relationship that qualifies you for the DVPO and spell out the specific facts that describe the domestic violence.  The Complaint needs to be as detailed as possible.

A Court of Appeals opinion has instructed our courts to not allow any testimony regarding domestic violence at the hearing that was not in the Complaint.  You must be sure to file quickly after the incident(s).  Waiting two weeks and still sleeping in the same house as the perpetrator will give pause to the court as to whether you are in fact in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm.

Your Day in Court

After filing the Complaint, you will go before a judge to tell your tale. This will be an ex-parte proceeding (without the other party.)  If the judge believes domestic violence occurred, then a DVPO will be issued.

The Order, which is temporary, will order the offender to not assault, threaten, abuse or harass you.  He may be ordered to stay away from your work and schools.  He may be evicted from the residence where you both live.  You may be granted possession of a motor vehicle and even temporary custody.

By law, there must be another hearing within 10 days of the ex-parte order, allowing time for the perpetrator to be served with the lawsuit. At that hearing you will again testify about what occurred, but this time the Defendant or his attorney may question you and the Defendant may also testify.

You and the Defendant may have witnesses, like other family members, testify on your behalf.  If the judge determines that acts of domestic violence occurred, a DVPO will be issued which will last for one (1) year.  Protective Orders may be renewed upon good cause if an application is filed prior to the expiration of the existing order.

Violations of either the ex-parte order or the “permanent” order are punishable by arrest if good cause exists and criminal contempt.

Seek Legal Counsel

If you have been a victim of domestic violence, the experienced family law attorneys at Weaver, Bennett & Bland can assist you with advice and obtaining the DVPO.  Since domestic violence and the issuance of a DVPO often ends in separation of couples, we can also assist with attempting to resolve the issues that remain such as custody, child support alimony and property settlement.

Although the vast majority of domestic violence actions are valid and necessary, we see a few cases each year where the party filing for a DVPO is simply trying to get the other party out of the house or gain an advantage in what is known as a Chapter 50 case, usually in the custody part.  Our Matthews attorneys can provide legal services to defend such frivolous actions.

 

*National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic Violence National Statistics.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. September 2015

**Knowledge Networks, 2011