Protective Orders and Divorce

Domestic violence is often a big part of a divorce case. It’s sad (and really, really scary) but true. We see these types of cases all the time. When I first started practicing family law, I was surprised at how many cases there were that involved some kind of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; maybe that was naïve of me, but that’s the truth. Today, so many years later, I don’t think there’s much you could tell me that would surprise me.

Domestic violence is everywhere, and it’s so much more prevalent than most people realize. It’s in the best and the worst neighborhoods. It happens to husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends (though certainly not in the same proportions), and also though, obviously, I don’t concern myself with representation of any of the husbands or boyfriends. It happens to doctor and lawyer wives and the wives of unemployed good for nothing drug dealers. It happens, in short, across the board.

The stories, despite the disparity of socioeconomic backgrounds, tend to start to sound the same after awhile. There are often issues with drug and alcohol abuse. There are threats of force and violence. There are codependence issues. There’s fear and shame. There’s a sense that no one will understand. There’s also, often, a feeling that the woman has the responsibility to fix whatever is broken with this person, that it isn’t his fault, that somehow, someway, order can be restored and happily ever after can still be achieved.

Eventually, though, usually after many years are wasted, these women find their way into a family law attorney’s office. There are all sorts of potential issues – divorce and custody chiefly among them, but also the possible issues associated with a protective order. Usually, once things have gone wrong for the last time, these women want to put measures in place to protect themselves. They know, deep down, that a piece of paper might not be the best way of doing that, but, really, what other choice do they have?
After years and years of abuse, physical, emotional, sexual, whatever, they know, only too well, the lengths to which their partner will go to manipulate and harm them. Once they become convinced that they can’t help the situation, they have to take steps to protect themselves – and their children – from any further physical abuse.

But…what to do now?

It’s a difficult situation to find yourself in, for sure. And you’ve got some tricky waters to navigate. As you can probably imagine, you’ll have to make all the right decisions to make sure that you and your children are properly protected.

If you’re worried about your physical safety, what should you do?

First thing’s first…

1. Go to the magistrate’s office and get a temporary protective order.

He won’t be able to be near you until your hearing to extend the protective order (you’ll have the opportunity to bring an attorney with you to that hearing, and so will he), and you can request that your children be added to that protective order, if he’s been aggressive or violent towards your children as well.

It’s usually fairly easy to get the temporary protective order, but you’ll need to be prepared to offer more evidence to get the permanent protective order. If you’re serious about it, you’ll really want to consider hiring an attorney to represent you. Remember that a protective order is a criminal charge, and will go on his criminal record. He won’t take it lightly, and neither should you.

This might also be a good time to start thinking about custody, if you have children. At the time that your permanent protective order is heard, you can ask that it be extended to include the children as well – but that’s a high bar (as I’m sure you can imagine). In the event that the judge says no, you might want to be prepared to propose something (like a neutral third party to assist with visitation exchanges or supervised visitation) to help protect both you and the kids in the meantime. A family law attorney could help with this side of things.

2. File for custody and visitation.

If you don’t have custody of the kids (through an order of the court or an agreement you’ve already signed), you’ll want to take care of that, too.

You can file for custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support (if you’re married) in the juvenile court. You might want to do these things sooner, rather than later, to begin to wrap up some of the loose ends, and make sure that you’re at least moving towards some kind of resolution where your children are concerned.

3. Negotiate a separation agreement or file for divorce.

If you are married, you’ll probably want to take steps to end the marriage, too. The way to do that is either to negotiate a signed separation agreement or file for divorce. There advantages and disadvantages to all the various ways of handling it, but you may find that your hand is a little forced depending on how difficult your husband is. Considering that he’s been abusive, I’m going to assume that he’s more difficult than most.

Probably, one of your first steps should be to learn as much about the divorce process as possible so you can begin to learn about your options, to figure out whether filing for divorce or negotiating that separation agreement is really going to be your best bet. A good way of doing that can be of requesting a copy of our free divorce book, or any one of our free reports on what women need to know about divorce . You might even consider attending one of our amazing monthly seminars on divorce, especially if you prefer to learn in a live format, or want to ask questions directly to a licensed Virginia divorce attorney.

Domestic violence cases are hard; there’s no doubt about it. But you’re not alone, and there are lots of resources out there that can help you get your ducks in a row, and make sure that he doesn’t continue to take advantage of you. Whether you’re getting a protective order, filing for custody, or negotiating a separation agreement, it’s a good idea to start planning your steps now. For more information, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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