If you are experiencing domestic violence, you need support. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
In North Carolina, domestic violence is defined essentially as a pattern of behavior within an intimate relationship that is intended to gain power and control over the victim. It can involve any of these acts against an intimate partner or a minor child in the perpetrator’s custody:
- Attempting to cause or intentionally causing bodily injury
- Putting you or a member of your family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury
- Continued harassment that rises to such a level that it inflicts substantial emotional distress
- Committing sexual assault
To be considered domestic violence, these acts must be in the context of a domestic or intimate relationship. A domestic or intimate relationship is generally defined as a spouse, ex-spouse, someone living in or who has lived in your household, a person with whom you have a child, someone you are dating, your parent, your child, your grandparent or your grandchild.
Acts of abuse or harassment by someone other than a person with whom you have this type of relationship are still illegal. The domestic relationship requirement is what allows you to get a domestic violence protection order, but you can get another type of protective order if you don’t share one of the listed relationships with your abuser.
How do I get a domestic violence protection order?
The first step is to contact a lawyer or a local domestic violence assistance agency. You will need to fill out some paperwork, which will be filed with the clerk of your local court.
The next step is an informal hearing. This may take place via videoconference, depending on the county. In any case, it will be an “ex parte” hearing, meaning it will only involve you, your attorney, and the judge. You will need to describe what acts of domestic violence the defendant has committed. If the judge believes you have presented evidence to support the need for an immediate order, he or she will grant an “ex parte order,” which is a short-term protective order that lasts until a more formal hearing can be held, usually within 10 days.
The sheriff will serve this temporary order on the defendant, who will be notified of the formal hearing.
At the hearing, both you and the defendant will be in court. Assuming the defendant does not consent to a long-term protective order, the judge will hold a short trial to determine if a domestic violence protective order should be issued. You will need to present evidence, which can include:
- Witness testimony
- Documentary evidence like photographs or medical records
- Audio recordings
The defendant can also submit evidence. Once both sides have presented their evidence, the judge will either issue or deny the order. The order is normally issued for a period of one year and can be renewed for up to two years prior to its expiration.
There may be a separate criminal proceeding
Domestic violence protective orders are civil matters, not criminal. In some circumstances, a prosecutor may wish to file charges against the defendant for the acts which led to the need for the order. If this happens, there could be a separate proceeding in the criminal court.
Violating a domestic violence protection order is a crime
After your protection order is issued, you should make sure you understand the terms.
If the defendant violates the protection order, he or she could be criminally charged or held in contempt of court. If the defendant has made a credible threat or is currently threatening you, call 911. If you would like to press charges for violation of the restraining order contact law enforcement or go to your local magistrate’s office.
Dealing with domestic violence is hard, but a compassionate attorney can help you. If you are worried that you or your family members could be in danger, get started on the process of getting a domestic violence restraining order right away.