(This article contains legal information only and is not legal advice. To form an attorney-client relationship with Sherry, you will have to complete a client intake and sign a retainer agreement. For more information on how to do that, visit the “Contact Us” section of this web page).
Frequently, my clients are unsure of whether they really want to go through the process of filing for and litigating a civil restraining order. (“Litigating” means going to court, sitting on the witness stand, and telling the judge what the defendant is doing that has caused you to file for a restraining order). After all, it’s a very uncomfortable – even downright scary – process to face your abuser in this way and to talk to a judge about the private things that have happened to you.
Many times my client is unsure of whether she is the victim of domestic violence. She may know that something is “off,” or doesn’t feel right. She may know that she is scared of someone with whom she has a personal relationship, but she is unsure of whether she is doing something to provoke that person, or whether the problems in her relationship are her fault. While there is no one set definition of behavior that can be considered domestic violence, I always ask the following questions:
- Has the person physically hurt you, threatened to hurt you, or made you afraid that he will physically hurt you?
- Does the person physically intimidate you?
- Have you asked the person to stop contacting you, tried without success to end your relationship, had to change your phone number or block the person on social media, or changed the locks on your residence to keep the person out of your home?
- If you share children with the person, does he use the children to threaten, intimidate or scare you – for example, by telling you that if you report his behavior that Child Protective Services will take the children away from you?
- Does he call you names, insult you and put you down, accuse you of cheating, and find ways to hurt you emotionally?
- Has he forced you to engage in sexual conduct against your will, either by physical force or by threatening, intimidating or emotionally manipulating you?
- Has he used weapons to directly or indirectly threaten you? (For example, does he prominently display or clean weapons in front of you when he is unhappy with you?)
- Does the person insult your friends and family members and try to prevent you from communicating with them or spending time with them? Does he disapprove of many or most of your relationships that are not with him?
- Has the person broken or damaged your phone in the past? Has he prevented you from leaving his presence or calling 911 in the past?
- Do your friends and family members express fear for you or tell you that they are concerned for you in this relationship?
- Does the person tell you often that you are mentally ill, that you are imagining that there is something wrong in your relationship or that his behaviors are normal and you are the one that has a problem? Does the person tell you that if you behaved differently or better he wouldn’t act the way that he does?
- Does the person seem to know things about you or your daily activities that he shouldn’t? Does he show up at places when you don’t have plans to see him?
Again, other behaviors not listed in the questions above can still be considered abusive, but if you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions then there is a good possibility that you are in an abusive relationship, and that you might qualify for a protective (“restraining”) order.
If my client has answered yes to some of the questions above and has tried unsuccessfully to stop the behaviors or leave the relationship in the past, I usually recommend that she obtain a civil restraining order to protect herself and so that she has a tool to stop the behavior. Knowing what could be ordered as a part of a civil restraining order under the law is also helpful to my clients in deciding whether to proceed. The list below contains the most common things that judges order in domestic violence cases. It is not a complete list, and judges often include more customized details that apply to your specific case after hearing the evidence. Keep in mind that these things are only ordered after a judge finds that you are a victim of domestic violence.
No Contact The defendant can be court-ordered to stop contacting you. In normal life, it is not a crime nor is it prohibited for one person to contact another. However, if a judge finds that you are a victim of domestic violence, she might order the defendant to stop contacting you altogether. And while a piece of paper itself may not be enough to get the defendant to stop contacting you, violating a restraining order in North Carolina is a crime. The no-contact order gives you a tool to then file criminal charges for the defendant’s continued contact if he contacts you after being ordered not to.
Prohibiting other behaviors Other behaviors can also be prohibited: the defendant can be ordered to stop following you, giving you gifts, coming to your residence or other places the defendant knows where to find you, calling your workplace, or telling other people to contact you. The defendant can also be ordered to stop threatening you or posting things about you on social media.
Temporary Custody If the judge finds that you are a victim of domestic violence and you share minor children with the defendant, the judge can award you temporary child custody. Even if the defendant gets some visitation in the order, having a court-ordered schedule is often a powerful tool to reduce harassment and reduce the amount of contact between you and defendant. The judge can also put protections in place for you so that exchanging the children can be done safely – for example, in a public place or using a third party.
Surrender of Firearms If the judge finds that you are the victim of domestic violence and that the defendant has firearms or other weapons, the judge may order that the defendant surrender those firearms to the sheriff. It is also possible for a judge to order that a defendant cannot get a new permit to obtain or possess firearms.
Possession of a car or residence If a judge finds that you are a victim of domestic violence, it is possible to get temporary possession of a residence or vehicle.
Again, the items listed above are not a complete list of what may be ordered, and not all of them may apply to your situation. If you need more information or want to schedule a consultation with Sherry, visit the contact us section of our website.