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April 1, 2020 Blog

If You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence, Help is Available Now

By: Stephanie J. Gibbs

In North Carolina, the law protects men, women and children who are physically abused, in fear of serious physical abuse, or are being severely harassed.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about protecting yourself from domestic violence:

How can the law protect me if I am being abused or harassed?

woman with her head buried in her handsChapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes allows victims of domestic violence to seek a civil (non-criminal) Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) against another person if a judge determines that an “act of domestic violence” occurred and there is need to prevent further abuse. See the definitions of “act of domestic violence” below.

A DVPO is a powerful court order, but it may not prevent a person from harming or harassing you. If you feel that you are in danger of serious harm due to the threats or actions of another person, you should contact law enforcement in a safe manner and be prepared to leave your residence and go to a safe place, such as a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

If an abuser violates a DVPO by contacting, threatening, or otherwise harassing a person who has obtained a DVPO, the abuser may be arrested and criminally charged.

In serious cases, such as those involving strangulation or physical injury, law enforcement may also charge the abuser with felony assault and similar crimes.

InterAct of Wake County operates a shelter and offers a 24-hour crisis hotline – (919) 828-7740. Here’s a link to InterAct’s website: https://interactofwake.org/ The InterAct building is closed during the COVID-19 national emergency, but staff and volunteers are continuing to offer assistance to victims.

Legal Aid of North Carolina may provide legal representation to victims. Here’s a link to Legal Aid: http://www.legalaidnc.org/get-help/apply-by-phone

You can find an interactive list of local Domestic Violence Service Providers at https://ncadmin.nc.gov/advocacy/women/interactive-programs-directory.

How do I obtain a DVPO?

A person seeking a DVPO may ask a judge (in some cases, a magistrate) for a DVPO by filling out documents at the courthouse or electronically at an agency such as InterAct. Hard copies of the required documents are available at the website nccourts.org. The documents must be filled out and filed at the courthouse or electronically before a judge can determine whether a DVPO should be issued.

In the required court documents, the person seeking a DVPO is identified as the Plaintiff, and the person accused of domestic violence is identified as the Defendant.

After filing the required documents, the Plaintiff must appear before a judge in court or, if applying electronically, in a video-conference hearing. After hearing the Plaintiff’s testimony, a judge (or magistrate in some instances) will determine whether the Defendant committed an act of domestic violence. If so, the judge will issue an “ex parte” DVPO, which allows law enforcement to evict the Defendant from his or her home, if shared with the Plaintiff, and order the Defendant to stay away from the Plaintiff until the Court has a second hearing. The purpose of the second hearing is to hear the Defendant’s evidence against entry of a DVPO.

Defendants have the option of consenting to entry of a DVPO, rather than moving forward with a hearing.  However, anyone considering entry of a Consent DVPO should first consult an attorney because entry of a Consent DVPO carries substantial legal and practical consequences.

Will I qualify for a DVPO?

The first step in filling out paperwork for a DVPO is determining whether you share (or shared) a “personal relationship” with the potential Defendant. What is a “personal relationship,” under North Carolina law? At least one of the following definitions must apply for you to qualify for a DVPO:

What is an “act of domestic violence” under North Carolina law?

Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes allows any person to seek a DVPO if he or she is in (or was in) a “personal relationship” with the alleged abuser, and that person has:

What protections does a DVPO provide?

If a judge grants an “ex parte” DVPO, the order will require law enforcement to immediately serve the Defendant with the DVPO; escort the Defendant from any residence shared with the Plaintiff; and instruct the Defendant that he is not to contact or be near the Plaintiff and, if ordered, any child in the Plaintiff’s custody or care.

If a judge grants a one-year “permanent” DVPO, the relief may include any of the following:

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact an attorney knowledgeable in this area of law to obtain a DVPO and provide additional assistance in claims for custody, child support, spousal support, and other issues arising from the relationship.

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Stephanie Gibbs is a North Carolina Board-Certified Specialist in Family Law, a certified Family Financial Mediator, and a former award-winning investigative journalist. She is a member of the North Carolina Chief Justice’s Family Court Advisory Commission, and the Local Advisory Committee of The Childs Advocate, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina that seeks to give children a voice in high-conflict custody cases. If you have a question about this article, you may email Stephanie at sgibbs@divorceistough.com or call her at (919) 367-1512.

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