Domestic violence refers to violence between adults, especially between spouses. Domestic abuse can be either physical or psychological (i.e., threats, degrading language). In most states, the term domestic abuse refers to any conduct that causes or threatens to cause injury between:

  • Family members;
  • Spouses; and/or
  • Residents of the same household.

Domestic violence is not just physical abuse of another person, but also can be emotional abuse, stalking, harassment, economic, and sexual abuse.

Where Can You Get Help in a Domestic Violence Emergency?

If you are facing a domestic violence emergency where you fear for your safety, immediately calling 911 or your local police phone number is your best bet for assistance. The local police are trained for these situations as they occur often and they will respond immediately. There are also local domestic violence hotlines where you can call for help or assistance. 

If you fear a domestic violence emergency or already experienced one and know it can reoccur, then you can prepare by finding a local domestic violence shelter near you. Sadly, many of these shelters only accept women and children, which means male victims of domestic violence may have little help from shelters.

How Can I Protect Myself from Domestic Violence?

If you are facing a domestic violence, there are steps you can take to better protect yourself. There safety tips can be the difference between being injured or killed:

  • Know your abusers red flags and come up with several reasons on why you need to leave the house;
  • Identify safe areas in your house that you can go for protection or to call the police;
  • Let your friends or family know when you are in danger for immediate help;
  • Practice how to escape or go to a safe spot;
  • Make and memorize a list of emergency contacts;
  • Have a bag of clothes, toiletries, money, and anything else you need in safe and secure place; and
  • Consider getting a protective order or restraining order.

A protective/restraining order is often easier to obtain if you have a police report. In most states, domestic violence calls have a mandatory arrest requirement, meaning that if the police are called to a scene they must arrest at least one person at the scene.

They will listen to each person’s account, document any injuries, and ultimately decide on the spot as to which person is the real attacker/abuser. In order to avoid being arrested, make sure you do everything you can to avoid being arrested and be prepared to show any evidence you might have about your abuser’s history of domestic violence.

Where are Domestic Violence Cases Handled?

There are three types of courts where such domestic violence issues are deliberated:

  • Criminal Court: The abuser is prosecuted by the state;
  • Civil Court: Lawsuits regarding protective order violations and money damages; and
  • Divorce or Family Court: To deal with child custody and visitation issues.

If the abuser was arrested, then you will first head to criminal court. If they are not arrested or the victim managed to be removed from the situation, then you can head directly to civil court where a restraining order can be established.

However, many states allowed Family Court to handle issues with domestic violence, including restraining orders. Be sure to check the local system or ask your attorney which court system you will face. 

How Do I Obtain a Court Order of Protection for Domestic Violence?

One of the first steps you can take is to contact the local state district attorney or inform the police. They can provide you with guidance and you will have to attend a court hearing. Once in court, you will have the burden of proving you were either abused or threatened with abuse. Usually to obtain an Order of Protection, you go to court and the court will issue the order that is signed by the judge to protect you from the domestic violence.

The judge will set limits on your partners behavior and if the Order is violated, the abuser will face serious consequences. You can ask the court for an Order of Protection against a "family member" or "partner" who has physically hurt you or threatened to hurt you and you're afraid will hurt you.

You can also consult with a family lawyer or reach out to a domestic violence shelter/clinic where they can walk you through the process. They can give you resources, often free, and let you know what you need to determine before you head to court.

How Does a Protective Order Work?

There are a few things you should know to ensure the usefulness of your protective order:

  • Address specific safety needs for you and your children;
  • Contact the police for every violation of the protective order;
  • Have many copies of the order readily available everywhere you are;
  • Protective orders enable police to intervene before the domestic violence occurs and will provide a speedy remedy; and
  • Protective order can provide a speedy remedy and relief more quickly than going through the criminal system since it requires a lower burden of proof.

What are the Legal Consequences of Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence cases often involve a number of criminal charges, including assault, battery, sexual assault, and rape. If criminal charges are brought against the offender, it can result in criminal penalties such as a jail or prison sentence, as well as monetary fines.

In addition to criminal penalties, person who is found guilty of domestic violence may also face other legal consequences, such as:

  • Damages: The defendant may have to pay monetary damages to cover the financial losses of the victim (such as hospital bills or pain and suffering)
  • Restraining Orders: A judge can issue a domestic abuse injunction such as a temporary or permanent restraining order. These can require the defendant to stay a certain distance from the victim, and can prohibit communication with the victim
  • Rehabilitation Courses: A judge can also require the defendant to attend mandatory rehabilitation courses, such as anger management classes
  • Custodial Rights: The defendant may lose their rights to child custody and visitation. This is true even if the charges involved spousal abuse, since courts aim to protect children from being exposed to violence
  • Criminal Charges: Domestic assault can result in criminal charges, which are punishable by some jail time. In some cases, it can even result in criminal fines.
  • Loss of Various Rights: Serious instances of domestic abuse can even result in the loss of various rights, such as the right to own a firearm, and the right to have a driver’s license

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with Domestic Violence?

If you have been a victim of domestic violence, you may wish to contact a family lawyer for legal advice.  An experienced family lawyer can help determine if legal action is necessary, and they can help represent you in court. In fact, in some spousal abuse cases, a lawyer near you may actually be necessary, especially if criminal charges are involved.