Finding an Attorney and going to Court

If you can afford it, you must pay for your own attorney. These are some questions you should ask a lawyer before you decide whether or not to hire him or her:

How much do you charge by the hour?

For a first meeting?

What is your minimum fee for my kind of case?

What is covered by your fee?

How many court appearances are included?

What is your rate for appearance in court?

Do you have a written agreement that I can sign and a copy of it for me to keep?

Are you willing to seek and enforce protective orders?

Will you seek changes in final orders and judgments if new circumstances justify the changes?

What are your fees for enforcement?

Do you charge for telephone calls?

Also ask:

Are you willing to work with a domestic violence advocate?

What should I do to help you with my case?

What do you expect of me?

What papers, documents and witnesses should I get for you?

What do you think are my chances for success in court?

From the very beginning you should feel comfortable when you talk to your lawyer and be sure that she or he understands your situation and knows how to help. If you do not have confidence in the first lawyer you speak with, you have every right to go to another one. Your local domestic violence program may be able to refer you to a lawyer.

Writing Your Petition

When you ask for an Order of Protection, you have to fill out a Family Offense petition, describing how your abuser harmed you. Your lawyer, if you have one, can prepare the petition. A domestic violence advocate can also work with you to prepare the petition. In some places the Probation Department will help you with your petition and bring it before the judge. If you do not have an advocate or a lawyer and are not going through Probation, the clerk of the court can be very helpful in explaining how to fill out your petition and other forms you may have to complete. The clerk is the court's administrator. He or she is in charge of handling the application for an Order of Protection and scheduling your hearing in court. In filling out the petition, you should give the facts simply and clearly. You don't need to explain what led to the abuse, but you should say exactly what the abuser did and when and where he did it.

Here's an example ...

"On May 1, 1995, at our apartment, John hit me in the face with his fist at least three times. My lip was cut and I had to go to the emergency room to get six stitches. He said if I told anyone he would kill me."

You don't have to write a lot, but if you have been abused at other times, or It your children have been hurt, threatened, scared, or witnessed the abuse, write those facts down too. If you have ever called the police to report violence against you or to ask them to protect you, it is important to include that as well. Be as complete as possible, giving information on all past incidences. Only the information included in the Temporary Order of Protection will be considered for the Permanent Order of Protection.

Once you have completed the petition, you will have to make it official by signing it in front of a notary. Someone in the clerks office will be a notary. You will need to bring a picture ID to show the notary as proof of who you are.

If you request a Temporary Order of Protection, the judge is required to make a decision about your petition the same day. He or she may ask you questions about the events you describe in it. Make as strong a case as you can, but keep your answers brief and stick to the facts. The judge will then decide whether or not to issue a Temporary Order of Protection to you. If you receive one, the court will arrange to serve the abuser with the Order and a copy of your petition. When the abuser sees the petition, he will know exactly what you have said was done to you. A Temporary Order of Protection is in effect from the time the abuser is served with the papers until the time of the court hearing.

A Family Court Temporary Order of Protection is available through Criminal Court when Family Court is closed. Whether you request or receive a Temporary Order of Protection or not, a hearing will be scheduled within a few weeks. Both you and your partner must appear before the judge at that time. If you want to get a Permanent Order of Protection, you must appear at the hearing.

Getting The Evidence Together

As evidence, you should bring to court whatever and whomever can help you show that the violence took place. Maybe a neighbor, a friend or relative heard you call for help or saw that you were bleeding or bruised. If you have medical records from a doctor or hospital that treated your injuries, you should bring them. A police report can also be important evidence.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence you can have is a photo of yourself that shows bruises or other visible injuries. In some areas, the police carry instant cameras and will take a picture of your injuries, or someone working in an emergency room can take a picture. It's a good idea to have pictures taken again a few days after a physical assault as it sometimes takes a while for bruises to show up. If possible, it is best to get film that has a date on it.

While witnesses strengthen your case, the most important evidence is what you tell the judge. Going over what you plan to say ahead of time and writing it down is a good way to prepare. Make a list of things you would like the court to do for you and specifically ask the judge to include those things in the Order of Protection. The list should include things you need to help stop the violence and make you safe. Among other things the judge can:

Tell the abuser to leave and stay away from your home, your job, your family or friends;

Direct the abuser to have no contact with you meaning no phone calls, letters or messages through other people;

Order the abuser to stay away from the children, their baby-sitter, day care or schools;

Require the police to accompany you into your home to retrieve personal belongings;

Decide issues related to custody, visitation and child support;

Order your abuser to pay for expenses related to the abuse such as medical care, property damage, etc;

Decide issues related to dividing up certain kinds of personal property.

The judge can also order your partner to go to a Batterers Intervention Program and/or to alcohol or drug treatment, However, even if he stops drinking or using drugs or goes to a batterers program, it doesn't necessarily mean that the abuse will stop. Even if he agrees to get help, you may still want to have an Order of Protection. Be prepared to explain why you need each type of relief you want. If you are asking that your abuser pay for your expenses, bring bills, receipts or other proof to show what these expenses were.

YOU MUST APPEAR IN COURT ON THE DATE SET FOR THE HEARING. The judge cannot issue an Order of Protection unless you are there. It you don't show up, he or she may dismiss the case and you would have to start all over again. If there is a reason that you can't come to court on the hearing date, call the clerk right away and explain. Ask for a CONTINUANCE and explain why you need it. The hearing will be set for another date.

b> Planning For Your Time In Court

You will probably have to wait in the courthouse before your case comes up, so you should plan to spend most of the day there. Some courthouses have child care services. Try to find out before you go to court, If they do not, try to leave your children with someone, or arrange for someone to take them to school. Sifting around the courthouse for several hours will be hard for them and having them at the hearing can be stressful for all of you.

Your physical appearance can make a difference in how a judge perceives you. You should try to dress as if you were going to work in an office.

What To Expect In Court

YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE SAFE IN THE COURTHOUSE AND THE COURTROOM. Your abuser may try to threaten or scare you in the courthouse. He may also try to stop the case by telling you he is sorry about the abuse and promising not to hurt you anymore. Even it you think that you may get back together, having an Order of Protection may prevent more violence in the future. If he promises to stop the abuse, it is always better to have the judge hear the promise; this could be done by agreeing to an Order of Protection. You do not have to speak with or sit near your abuser. If he tries to intimidate you or you are pressured in any way, go immediately to a clerk or anyone else who works there and ask for help.

If the abuser does not come to the hearing, your case will be adjourned and you will be given a new court date. You can ask the judge to issue a warrant for his arrest. If you have a Temporary Order of Protection, you may also need to ask for it to be extended until the next court date.

Talking To The Judge

Before you testify, you will be asked to swear that you will tell the truth. Everyone else who testifies, including your abuser, will also be sworn.

Everyone in the courtroom is expected to treat the judge with special respect, so always call the judge "Your Honor" and don't interrupt when the judge is talking. Speak only when the judge asks you to speak. If the judge interrupts you to ask you a question, stop speaking right away. If you don't understand a question, politely say so. If you can answer a question with "Yes, Your Honor" or "No, Your Honor" that's all you need to say. If you have to explain something, try to give just the facts and to be brief. Speak slowly, look directly at the judge and tell what happened, but keep it simple. If you practice your testimony ahead of time, it will be easier to talk in court even if you are nervous.

A judge often has to deal with many cases in a day and so he or she may seem to be in a hurry. Sometimes, it can seem as if a judge is angry or irritated. Try not to let this bother you, remain calm and follow the suggestions above.

After you have told your story, your abuser (or his lawyer, if he has one) has the right to give his side of what happened. This may include asking you questions to try to discredit what you have just told the judge. This is called cross-examination. This may be upsetting to you, but it is important to stay calm and not get into an argument with your abuser. Do not say anything until the judge asks you to speak again or tells you to answer the questions. If your abuser lies, when it is your turn to talk, simply tell the court that what your abuser said was not truthful.

You should make sure that the judge knows about any threats your abuser has made to stop you from going to court. These may include threats to take or harm your children, to withhold money for support, or threats against your friends or family. You should also report harassment such as repeatedly phoning the place you work or coming to your workplace.