October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to face this issue affecting more of our nation than you may realize. Within their lifetime, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines. Each of those calls indicates an individual looking for encouragement, direction, and sometimes a means of escape. It is very important for these victims to know the law can be a resource for them and that they have the right to a safe living environment.
If you feel your life or the life of your child is in danger (or if someone you love is in this situation), it is time to seek help, make a plan, and leave. Following are insights into where to get started; for more information, please see Sodoma Law’s free "Escaping Domestic Violence" eBook.
If you or your child is in immediate danger, call 911, and do not hesitate to do so. Victims and survivors of domestic violence sometimes hesitate to reach out for emergency assistance for a number of reasons. Whatever your reasoning may be, it is imperative that you do not rationalize away your need for help. Remember “better to be safe than sorry.” When you fear for you or your child’s safety, call 911!
Seek Help and Talk to Someone you Trust
Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income. Both women and men can be victims of domestic violence. Oftentimes, those experiencing domestic violence are isolated from family and friends, but it is important for you to confide in someone you trust. Talk about what is happening with family, friends, neighbors, and/or co-workers. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with someone you know, reach out to an organization. To get help or for more information about domestic violence, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Make a Safety Plan
A safety plan is meant to keep you and your children safe. It addresses a number of issues that survivors of domestic violence face while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave that relationship, and after leaving. Since each survivor’s situation is unique, your safety plan should address your particular needs. In general, when making a safety plan, ask yourself the following questions: who can I call, where can I go , and what should I pack in my emergency bag (i.e. money, clothes, copies of important documents, and copies of keys). Be sure to gather any documents or evidence you will need BEFORE you leave and attempt to get a protective order. Once that bell has been rung, it is amazing how quickly financial statements, photos, and other important documents disappear.
Once you have a plan in place, leave. Your safety and the safety of your loved ones are the first and foremost concern. If you have children in the home, take them with you.
File Your Complaint for Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) Sooner Rather than Later
The longer you wait, the harder it is to preserve evidence, and any delay could indicate to the Court that you are not actually in fear. Judges may question the severity of the situation and whether you are afraid of your abuser if there is a delay between the incident and filing. Be thorough and organized in filling out your Complaint for DVPO. Magistrates and judges get hundreds of these requests each month, and they have very limited time in which to make decisions in each case. Provide as much detail as you can, but do so in a way that is easy to follow, such as providing details in chronological order.
Include specific dates and summaries of each incident in the Complaint. This gives the other party notice of the actions complained about, and gives the Court a basis for granting the relief requested. Attach an additional exhibit to the Complaint setting out the timeline of events if there is not enough space on the form, but keep the summaries brief and to the point so the Judge can easily review your claim.
Be diligent about collecting and keeping evidence. Take photographs, save text messages and e-mails, obtain phone logs, and identify witnesses. Even if the Court grants a temporary order for your protection, there will be a return hearing where you will need to present more particular evidence. You and your attorney will need this evidence to best present your case.
Escape to a Better Life – for You and Your Children
1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. Escaping a dangerous relationship can often not only save a victim's life, it can also give their children a better future.
Amanda M. Cubit is an attorney in the Family Law practice at Sodoma Law, P.C. Prior to joining the firm, she practiced with Legal Aid of North Carolina, where she represented clients in domestic violence and child custody matters. Ms. Cubit completed her education at Charlotte School of Law and Clemson University. FOr more information about Sodoma Law visit them at https://www.sodomalaw.com/ or call 704-442-0000.