Domestic Violence and Social Distancing

If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge anglophile. I can’t help it; I love the British. It has been a lifelong love, too.

That’s generally not relevant to the work that I do. Once, I wrote a blog about Henry VIII and the differences between divorce then and now, and I may have mentioned my affinity for the Duchess of Cambridge once or twice since then. But then, the other day, while I was scrolling Facebook mindlessly (as one does when one is stuck at home with two kids under four) and saw a quote from a recent speech given by the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla, Prince Charles’s wife, if you’re not similarly acquainted) that sheds some light on an issue that many family law practitioners have noticed in the wake of this coronavirus hullabaloo: domestic violence. She said:

“This is a hard time for everyone, as we are all asked to stay at home to stay safe. But for some of you it is even harder, because home is not a safe place.
“I can only imagine that being asked to stay there could feel very isolating and frightening for you and your family.
“It may mean spending more time with the person who is harming you.
“If this is your situation, or you are worried about someone else, I want you to know that you are not alone.
“Even if you cannot leave your home, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline or contact one of the domestic abuse charities. Please stay safe and get help.”

The coronavirus pandemic is worldwide, so it’s no wonder that the British Royal Family is speaking out on issues that are affecting us, too. Domestic violence is always an issue, but that’s been more apparent in times like these – when courts are closed, and many of us are confined to our homes. Add to that an incredible amount of stress and, frankly, it’s a recipe for disaster.

The Duchess of Cornwall expressed herself beautifully, and her message is one that I think our current and prospective clients should hear as well. There’s nothing different about life across the pond; at least, not in this respect. There are resources available to you if you feel like you’re one of those people for whom home is not a safe space.

A couple of things I’d like to point out:

1. The court is closed, except for emergency petitions, and that includes protective orders.

If you’ve experienced violence or the threat of violence, it may be worth a trip down to the magistrate’s office to get a temporary protective order. You’ll usually get an initial protective order, provided you can meet minimum burdens of proof, of 3 days. For longer than that, you’ll have to have a hearing.

You’ll want to get any evidence that you have together, and spend some time considering what testimony you’ll give. I always think it’s a good idea to write out what you want to say and practice it a bit. Even if you don’t recite your speech verbatim, having had a bit of practice and some time to consider your word choice can help a lot.

Remember: you’ll need to show the violence you’ve already experienced as well as any threats he has made, and show that you’re scared.

You can go with or without an attorney, but, obviously, its almost certainly better, easier, and less stressful with one – especially since you’ll have to question your husband/boyfriend/abuser to establish the relevant facts in the case, and it’s often difficult for a victim to do a good job in that atmosphere.

2. A protective order can get him kicked out of the house!

It’s not just about getting that piece of paper. It’s about establishing a safe place for you and your children to live during this dangerous time.

If you’re able to get a protective order established, you can also ask for exclusive possession of the home. He would have to find somewhere else to go, which would allow you a chance to quarantine at home in peace.

3. Children can be included in a protective order, but you’ll need to establish that the violence or threat of violence extends to the children.

If the children are often victims of the violence, be prepared to discuss and prove that as well.

If they’re not, you could ask for help establishing some kind of custody and visitation schedule, even with a neutral third party (who helps at a safe social distance, maybe) present to help facilitate. That may be harder with social distancing/stay at home orders in place, but it’s possible (and also possible that you ask to not exchange the children right now, as you don’t have a person who could safely act in that capacity).

4. There are resources out there to help you, like the Duchess of Cornwall points out.

Though I’m not an expert, I know that there are shelters out there – like through the YWCA and Samaritan House.
Call or email or check out their websites and see what is out there to help you.

Domestic violence is definitely something to be aware of, especially in this climate. For more information about protective orders or to consult with an attorney about getting one in place, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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