Domestic violence is an act that, like skipping stones into a pond, leaves ripples in its wake. Regrettably, what’s left behind isn’t just a puddle of water; it leaves damage ranging from emotional turmoil, to physical and emotional scarring that takes years to heal, and it creates legal problems. In the case of parents, domestic violence can affect who is awarded custody. Like the emotional turmoil and legal problems mentioned above, the ripples of domestic violence into family law, child custody, and visitation determinations is widespread and deeper than many realize.
One of the most common misconceptions about Domestic Violence is that victims often believe that because they weren’t physically struck or wounded, the issue at hand is simply a “disagreement” and not abuse. However, Alabama law extends the definition of abuse much further, to include:
- Physical and verbal abuse;
- Assault; and/or
- Threats of harm or violence.
Ask any counselor or therapist – abuse takes many forms. It doesn’t just include physically being hit or hurt, but includes, and often times is most damaging, when it is emotional, mental or economic (i.e., where one partner controls all access to money without allowing the other partner access). Abuse victims often find themselves isolated from friends and family, and subject to threats of violence to frighten, intimidate, and manipulate certain behaviors. Domestic violence can also include a host of other issues and violent behavior, including attempts at violence, child abuse, arson, kidnapping, trespassing, coercion (using threats of force or force itself to get a certain action from someone), sexual abuse, theft, and unlawful or false imprisonment.
Alabama has specific criminal laws dealing with abuse in marriage, which provide, among other things, for minimum incarceration periods and heightened penalties for crimes against a spouse. In addition to criminal charges, and what is more commonly seen in today’s legal landscape, are “protection from abuse” orders (PFA). These orders are a form of temporary restraining orders, which while initially temporary, can be sought without giving your spouse or partner notice. After an initial issuance, a hearing must be had on the order within 10 days, and the other party will have the chance to present evidence in opposition to the PFA.
In a divorce setting, it’s possible that PFAs may be used to gain advantage prior to a divorce proceeding, particularly since a PFA can be obtained without notice to the opposing party and once the initial PFA is obtained, any contact by the other partner would be a violation of the order (i.e., “contempt of court”). Because of this potential, if served with a PFA, we would strongly advise any defendant to immediately contact an attorney to find out their rights. On the flip side, if you or a loved one are in a romantic relationship (whether married or not) and feel that there is a need for protection from violence, threats or abuse, a PFA is a fast and helpful remedy for reducing the risk from a dangerous situation.
If you or a loved on have been, or are the victim of domestic violence, you have legal rights that should be pursued and protected. Fortunately, in this day and age, all parties to a legal conflict have choices about how to approach their dispute. You can have your day in court if you need it, or you can choose alternatives that don’t involve direct court intervention. Although united by ethical standards and rules of practice, most lawyers have their own style and personal approach to their work. Some see themselves as problem solvers, others as warriors; some adapt to the needs of their client and the requirements of the case. You can choose both the process and the lawyer that is right for you.
Almost without exception, every client feels a sense of great urgency to finalize any legal process. It’s virtually impossible to be prepared for the financial and emotional cost, as well as the investment of time required. It is a mistake, however, to allow the sense of urgency for resolution to prevent you from making an informed decision about who will represent you and the method by which you will achieve a final outcome. It matters. And although there is always relief in closure, when you have not fully considered your options, there is nothing but time on the other side of the dispute to second guess the outcome.
Our goal at Nolan Byers is to identify each client’s values, needs and interests and to offer all of the options available for addressing the particular dispute. Even a seemingly uncomplicated case must be considered carefully.