By Jim Warren
There’s a wide perception that family lawyers largely handle matters related to separation, divorce, and child custody and visitation, that’s not all that many of us do. While we take all of our duties as attorneys quite seriously at Warren Family Law, there is perhaps no more serious duty we have than to protect women who find themselves in domestic violence situation.
Violence against women happens all too often in our society. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women are victims at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetimes. If that statistic doesn’t sicken you, try this one on: one in fifteen children has been exposed to intimate partner violence, while 90 percent of them have been eyewitnesses.
While women aren’t the only victims of domestic violence, there’s a definite imbalance between the sexes, as they make up 85 percent of the victims. Legislatures across the country have responded in recent years by toughening up statutes to decrease the prevalence of violence against females in relationships.
In North Carolina, violence against females is addressed by the Domestic Violence Act, Chapter 50B and Chapter 50C. In our state, if you’re a female victim of abuse, stalking, or continued harassment in the form of unwanted calls and text messages or emails, visits, or correspondence, there are both civil and criminal statutes that can be used to protect you.
The first step, if you’re the victim of any threatening behaviors or actual abuse is to call the police for help. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a current relationship or if he’s a former boyfriend or someone you simply conceived a child with, you can file a criminal complaint.
In addition to filing a domestic violence charge in the criminal system via the police or magistrate, we can also help you pursue these matters with civil remedies made available under the NC Domestic Violence Act. At each county courthouse, you may pursue a protective order (aka a restraining order), without your abuser present, through either the Clerk of Superior Court or the magistrate. This is known as an ex parte order, since one of the parties doesn’t have to be present for a temporary judgment to be made.
These orders don’t just cover keeping your assailant at a safe distance. You can also take sole possession of your home, personal property, children, and pets. Your abuser may also have to stay away from your home, your place of work, and even your children’s schools.
Remember, an ex parte order is an immediate protective order meant to provide temporary safety without a careful review of the fact from both sides, since your alleged (in the eyes of the court) abuser must have due process under the law. They will have the right to a full hearing with both parties present within 10 days of the issuance of the initial order, where both parties may present evidence and call eyewitnesses to testify. At these second hearings, also known as return hearings, if the presiding judge is convinced by the greater weight of the evidence that acts of domestic violence did occur, the judge will issue a permanent protective order that remains effective for a period of one year. Victims who are granted these protective orders may renew them with good cause prior to their expiration.
While we are saddened every time we see a domestic violence situation, we will never shrink away from our duties as family lawyers. While violence against females is quite prevalent, as a society we have provided strong measures to protect he most vulnerable among us.
If you are the victim of domestic violence know that we are here to help. Call the authorities immediately, and call us. Learn your options for handling the violence that terrorizes you in your home and how there are many ways forward to a life of peace and happiness we all deserve the opportunity to pursue.