There are a number of steps survivors of domestic abuse can take through the criminal and civil legal systems to protect themselves from further abuse. Domestic violence is against the law. Bodily injury, severe harassment, communicating threats, sexual offenses, stalking, are all causes for obtaining protective orders and/or issuance of warrants for arrests.
For Family Court cases, it is very important to have a lawyer well-versed in family law and, if possible, one who also understands domestic violence. (See "Resource Guide", "Get Informed" for how to find a lawyer). You may want a lawyer for a civil protective order, especially if you plan to bring any future action in Family Court.
To go to court can be very scary, but help is there to guide you through and get you the protection you need. Once you have a protective order, if another incident occurs the police can issue a warrant for violation of the order. Police usually respond quickly if you tell them you have a restraining order. Even if you are unsuccessful in court, you have begun a paper trail showing abuse and you have stood up to the abuser, with counselors and advocates involved in your behalf.
A Domestic Violence Protective Order (50B or DVPO) is a court order which usually requires the abuser to have no contact with the victim, and not to abuse the plaintiff (victim) or a member of the plaintiff's family, including pets. Usually the abuser is evicted from the home and temporary custody of children given to the plaintiff. Even if there is a criminal case in which the batterer has been ordered to stay away, that order is only in effect for the time of probation, while a DVPO can be extended for many years.
The Ex Parte, or temporary emergency order, is good for ten days and is based on assumption of immediate danger, harassment causing severe emotional distress, sexual offenses or bodily injury. The abuser does not have an opportunity to appear. After ten days a second hearing is held to determine if protection will be granted for an entire year. The abuser is notified and given the opportunity to present facts, and custody matters may be re-examined. The victim may want to retain a lawyer for the "ten day" hearing. If a "one-year" is granted, it may be eligible to be extended for two more years after it expires.
For a Civil Protective Order, you will need to file papers at the Civil Clerks Office at the Courthouse (832 East. 4th St. in Charlotte). If filed during the week, your case will be heard within 24 hours. You can file on your own or with the help of Victim Assistance (VA), a free service of United Family Services. Counselors there will help you fill out the paperwork, accompany you to court, and advise you throughout your process. VA is open 8:30 AM to 4PM, M-F at 720 E. 4th St., Room #204. (See "Resource Guide", "Get Informed Section".) If you need to file after hours or on the weekend, go to the Magistrate's Office at 801 E. 4th Street 704-347-7844.
These protective orders are handled in civil court. All cases are heard at the Mecklenburg Courthouse (832 East 4th St.) in Room 4110. If you obtain a DVPO the defendant will not be arrested, but he will be held in contempt and could go to jail if he violates it.
If you think you should call the police, DO IT. Call 9-1-1. Try to be calm, show any injuries or damaged property, tell the officers if there were any witnesses, and tell them about other violent incidents. Have them photograph any damage to you or property. Ask that a report be filed. This is required, even if no other police action is taken. Get the officers business card, case number of the report and a phone number.
If the batterer is arrested, he will be held until the next bond hearing, usually the next weekday. Bail is set and he may be released if the bail is paid. An automated system - Jail VINE, will tell you when the batterer is released: 800-247-9658.
When given bail, the defendant will be ordered to stay away from you. Call the police if you are contacted in any way! When the criminal case is heard, it is very important that you show up since you are the witness. You do not need a lawyer. The District Attorney is your lawyer.
If the police were not called to your home, or did come but were unable to make an arrest because the batterer had fled, make the report over the phone or at the police station and get a case number of the report. You can go to the Magistrate's Office with the police report and swear out a warrant for the batterer's arrest. It will be issued if the Magistrate agrees to the merits of your case. Sometimes the police will swear out a warrant for you.
All criminal domestic violence cases are held in Room 4130 of the Courthouse.
Family Court, held on the 8th floor of the Courthouse, hears matters such as divorce, child custody, visitation, distribution of property, spousal support and such. These are usually long-term and complicated and it is advised to have good legal counsel whose specialty is family law and who has knowledge of domestic abuse. Because North Carolina has a "one judge, one family" rule, if one files in civil court for a protective order and the plaintiff has a case in family court, the hearing on the protective order will be heard by the Family Court judge.
Located in Room 3350 at the Mecklenburg Courthouse and open weekdays until noon, the Center provides paperwork for filing on just about every type of complaint or action one might need. Also available are people who will instruct you on where to file. However, they cannot help you fill out the paperwork.
This information also available in PDF format by clicking this link for Legal Guidelines