Preparing for a Domestic Violence Hearing
In family law cases involving accusations of domestic violence, a hearing will be held to determine if a temporary restraining order or child custody order is necessary.
Unfortunately, domestic violence is an all-too-common problem. If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you should get help right away. Call the police, file a report and contact a local shelter if you and your children need someplace to stay - try to get away from your abuser as quickly as possible.
This article provides only a basic overview of domestic violence hearings. If you're a party to a domestic violence case, you should contact an experienced attorney for help.
How prevalent is domestic violence?
Domestic violence statistics are staggering. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has compiled data from various sources, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They report the following:
- An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
- Almost one-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.
- In 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.
- Intimate partner violence results in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year.
- One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
- 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
The impact of domestic violence on children is also quite serious:
- 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.
- Witnessing violence between one’s parents is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
- Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
As a result of the brutal impact that abuse renders on families and children, courts take charges of domestic violence very seriously. In a divorce proceeding, for example, if there is a history of abuse, it will impact a judge's decisions about child custody and visitation - after all, a family law judge is tasked with considering the child's best interests, including how to best protect the child's health, safety and welfare.
What happens at a domestic violence hearing?
At the hearing, a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to support protective orders in favor of the victim. Protective orders prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim in any way and from coming within a certain distance to the victim – at home, at work and anywhere else the victim frequents - for a certain period of time.
In addition, if the parties have minor children, the judge may order that the custody of any children involved be granted exclusively to the victim in order to help keep the children safe from abuse and/or from witnessing any further abuse. If the court finds that the abuser did in fact commit acts of domestic violence, the court may order that the abuser have only limited, supervised contact with the parties' children. In extreme cases, a judge may order that the abuser have absolutely no contact with the children.
If you are the petitioner in a domestic violence matter...
Typically, the victim in a domestic violence case is called the "petitioner," and the alleged abuser is called the "respondent." If you're the petitioner, you must be prepared to provide the court with a thorough and complete history of your relationship with the abuser, including evidence of alleged past abuse; this is relevant to establishing the need for protection.
Take photographs of any and all injuries; documentary and photographic evidence will add credibility to your presentation, particularly where the only other evidence is your own testimony. If you have medical records related to your injuries, have them ready to submit to the court. With respect to the actual incident giving rise to the domestic violence case, you must be prepared to give the court concrete details, such as the day, date, time and place of the incident.
If you plan to seek emergency family maintenance (financial support) at your domestic violence hearing, you must testify as to your financial needs (such as rent, child care, food and insurance) and the financial resources (for example, income and liquid assets) available to both parties. Make a list of all of your income and monthly expenses, and provide the court with all supporting documentation. Get paystubs and tax returns; if you can't get copies of the respondent's paystubs, you can still put his or her income into evidence with a copy of your tax returns (if they are joint).
If you are the respondent at a domestic violence hearing...
If you are served with a complaint for domestic violence, it's important to find a lawyer who specializes in this type of case and is familiar with local court practices. Be completely honest with your lawyer.
If you deny that the incident of domestic violence occurred, you must defend your case at trial. You would be wise not to try and defend yourself in court. Instead, you should hire a family law lawyer or criminal defense attorney with experience in domestic violence cases.
(See Defenses Against Domestic Violence Charges for more information.)