There are several different tools at your disposal as far as helping protect you and your family from the violence of abuse of various sorts. In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to mention a number of those tools so that you will be aware of them in case they become relevant for you and your family's circumstances. Different kinds of abuse pertain to an individual and different methods for protecting a family from each mean taking the time to learn about them individually.
For starters, a protective order is a court order that protects you or your children from a person who has acted violently towards your family and continues to threaten violence towards your household. The violence in question includes sexual abuse and other forms of physical violence. The person who perpetrates the physical violence could be a spouse, ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend, or even a family member of an ex-partner. Unfortunately, several people could be the subject of a protective order application. A protective order must be obtained through a court. Many times, the jurisdiction that you live in has a specific court set aside to process the administration of protective orders.
A protective order can be helpful- perhaps even in ways that you had not yet even considered. First, a protective order can order the other person to not hurt you or threaten to hurt you. A protective order can also order another person to not contact you, go near you, or get near your children. This includes places like your home, your place of work, or your child's school. Importantly, a protective order can prevent another person from carrying a firearm. The punishment for violating a protective order is potentially jail time.
How can you get a protective order?
Now that we have established the basics of a protective order, we can figure out how you can get one if you feel like you and your children can benefit from one. If your children have been hurt or threatened by violence, then a protective order is a possibility. There will be some understandable fear and concern that violence could occur in the future which is usually the main motivator behind applying for a protective order. If the person is related to you or your children in a close way, then the protective order can be applied. The type of close relationship would be a marriage, immediate family member, housemate, or significant other with whom you share a child.
Even if you do not have a close relationship with the person, you can still request a protective order if the person has sexually assaulted or stalked you. You should specify what the person has done, the circumstances that you are applying for a protective order under, and the relationship that you share with the person. All this information will be helpful to a judge while he reviews your application and determines whether a temporary protective order should be granted while you wait for a hearing to make your temporary protective order permanent.
One of the main concerns that people have while they wait for a determination on a protective order application is which person will get possession of their home, apartment, or vehicle during this period. A court can issue rulings that bar another person from your home or vehicle. Importantly, a judge can also make rulings that have to do with child custody, child support, visitation, and even spousal support as a result of a protective order application. These are common elements of a family law case. The determinations made in a case like this can lead right into a divorce or child custody case where these types of subjects are more customarily decided for families like yours.
In temporary ex-parte protective order, you can obtain protection from the other person sooner than it would take to have a protective order hearing held. The key to this is receiving a piece of paper signed by a judge which says temporary ex parte protective order at the top of the first page. Until and unless you receive a piece of paper that says this will still need to go to court for a protective order. You will need to testify in a hearing in support of your protective order application. Even a temporary ex parte protective order is not a permanent solution, as the name would indicate. Rather, a temporary ex-parte protective order lasts only for two weeks and can be extended by a court for another two weeks. The purpose of the temporary protective order is to establish some degree of protection for a person and their children until a hearing can be held on the protective order application.
Ultimately, it will be necessary for you to go to court if you want to have your protective order application approved by a judge. This is true even if a temporary ex-parte protective order has been granted by a court. A hearing will be held approximately two weeks after your application has been reviewed by the court. The judge will decide in the hearing if a protective order should be granted and for how long. The maximum length of time for a protective order to last is typically two years. A protective order can be granted for longer than two years but that occurs only in limited situations.
What sort of safety plan can you set up to protect yourself and your children?
If you find yourself where you are in an abusive situation with a partner or spouse, then you need to have a safety plan in place. A safety plan is a plan that allows you to figure out how you can protect your family from harm even if you are not yet in a position where you can leave a dysfunctional and abusive relationship. It makes good sense for you to have a safety plan in place. This way you can approach dangerous situations with more caution, and you will not be caught flat-footed when it comes to being able to make sure that you and your children will have a minimal risk of danger in the home even if you are in a dangerous relationship.
The first phase of your safety plan would be to have a plan on how to physically escape from a dangerous situation. If you or your children are the subjects of abuse or verbal threats by your partner or spouse, then you should have a plan set up to be able to leave the situation before you all are subjected to physical harm at the hands of a dangerous person. You need to think strategically when it comes to exiting yourself from a dangerous situation. First, you should spend as little time as possible in rooms in your home that have only one exit. Next, consider removing items from the home that are nonessential which could also double as weapons. Also, be aware if there are actual weapons like firearms or knives which can be used to hurt you or your child. I understand that there is not much you can do when it comes to removing these items, but you can at least be aware of them and do your best to limit the time you spend in the home with these items present.
Have the contact information for law enforcement handy. In your area, that may be a local police department, sheriff, or constable's office. A key thing to understand is if your spouse or partner attempts to disrupt a telephone call made to 9-1-1 then he is breaking the law. You can also ensure that any injuries you suffer heal well if you seek medical attention for them. There are free or reduced-fee clinics in areas around Houston that you can seek care from if you do not have health insurance to pay for more long-term care. You should take photos of any injuries that you suffer to be able to document them for future use. At a hearing for a protective order, you should expect to turn over evidence to the court of your injuries or those of your children. Photos are firsthand evidence of harm that you all would have suffered.
Where you will go after your spouse or partner turns violent is the next step in the process. There are violence and emergency shelters in our area that should be able to house you temporarily. The shelter has workers who can provide additional information on how to apply for a protective order. This may not be easy, but you should keep your neighbors informed of the circumstances that you are facing. Make sure they know to call 9-1-1 if they hear or see anything abnormal coming from your home. You may even be able to figure out a signal to call for “help” with a neighbor. Having a window open or the blinds up or down a certain way can be a sign for help from your neighbor is needed.
You can start to have mail sent to another address- especially if the mail pertains to you seeking legal help or possibly moving out. Limit the opportunities for your spouse or partner to become upset about things like this. It is an annoyance to receive mail at another address. However, if you have a parent, sibling, or friend who is willing to receive mail on your behalf then that would be ideal. The last thing you want during this time is to tip your spouse off to your wanting to develop a plan for safety purposes that could enrage him or at least cause him to become suspicious of your activity. See if you can slip under the radar during this period so that you do not cause his antennae to go up. A violent person wants control above all else and will stop at nothing to get that control from you.
Having an extra set of house keys made at a hardware store is not a major undertaking but can prove to be especially useful if you are denied access to your home or if you find yourself locked inside with no way to escape. Giving that extra set of keys to your parent or a friend can be the difference between your being locked into your home against your will and having a path out. The same can be said of having important papers stored at another person's home. The same principle that applies to having the mail delivered elsewhere also applies to keeping papers kept at another address that may relate to a legal case or even an application for a protective order.
Sometimes our memory may fail us when it comes to protective order applications and the events that have led to our considering a protective order. In that case, you should keep a journal of the events that you and your children have experienced. Dates, times, locations, and the nature of the violent events should be documented. That means if you apply for a police report or receive other documentation that relates to the family violence you should include that in your log or journal. You never know what will be important when it comes to applying for a protective order or seeking other types of protection in the future.
If possible, you should seek to have some emergency cash on hand in the house in a location that your spouse or partner is unaware of. Enough money to pay for food, a night's lodging away from home, or gas to get you from your home to a safer place is all you need. The more money you can have the better but if it becomes more than a thousand dollars or so you may consider opening a bank account separate from your spouse so that your spouse or partner does not stumble upon the cash.
Technology and how it fits in with your safety plan
All your social media should be used minimally during a time when you are at risk for violence in the home. This doesn't mean you necessarily have to delete your profiles or anything like that. Social media can be useful to get messages out to people to make sure they know you are safe or to make them aware that you need help. However, if your spouse or significant other can access these webpages then you need to make sure that you have passwords that are changed regularly. Sometimes social media websites will automatically allow others to see where you are through location tracking. If at all possible, that is a feature that you should turn off as soon as you can. Remember that anything you put online can be read by anyone at any time. Even if you have privacy settings on your phone you should assume that this is the case. Do not put yourself in a position where you may have to scramble to protect yourself from someone tracking your movements via social media.
Your home computer is a tough egg to crack for a couple of reasons. One, your spouse will expect to be able to use the computer at home so it’s not as if you can change a password on there without consulting him first. The second thing I will point out is once you start to money around with your home computer the cat will be out of the bag, and he will know that you are planning something shortly as far as a possible move or divorce is concerned. So, you need to be savvy about how you utilize the home computer and safety materials.
You should change the password to any website that you access independently of your spouse. Email, social media, banking, etc. This is all information that you can change regularly to protect yourself and your kids. Keep track of what you are doing online, and your spouse will not be able to keep close tabs on you.
One thing that you can do to make sure that you will not be cut off from communicating with others is to buy a cheap phone and keep it in your car, your dresser drawer, or someplace that your spouse will not be aware of what you are doing. From there, you can make sure that you have numbers stored in the phone in the event of an emergency or just memorize a few important phone numbers. Whatever you do, have a plan on how to communicate with others during a time like this. Do not rely on your “normal” cell phone especially if it is on a plan that you share with your spouse.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that is contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.