When most people hear the word “domestic violence,” images of bruises and other injuries come to mind. This is not an incorrect assumption, but domestic violence under California law is defined broadly. Domestic violence is a serious offense that affects more than 10 million women and men per year. On average nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States alone.
In California, domestic violence restraining orders (“DVRO”) are an option to protect the victim of domestic violence from further abuse. Unfortunately, restraining orders are sometimes sought for the wrong reasons. For example, restraining orders are sometimes used to get child custody orders without paying a filing fee.
If you are accused of domestic violence in family court, regardless of whether the allegations are true or false, it is critical to rehabilitate your reputation and present your case in the most persuasive way. An experienced family law attorney can help you defend your case and protect your constitutional rights.
What is domestic violence under California law?
Domestic violence is abuse or threats of abuse when the person being abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship (married or domestic partners, are dating or used to date, live or lived together, or have a child together). It is also when the abused person and the abusive person are closely related by blood or by marriage.
Under California law, “abuse” is defined as:
- Physically hurting or trying to hurt someone, intentionally or recklessly;
- Sexual assault;
- Making someone reasonably afraid that they or someone else are about to be seriously hurt (like threats or promises to harm someone); OR
- Behavior like harassing, stalking, threatening, or hitting someone; disturbing someone’s peace; or destroying someone’s personal property.
Note that physical abuse is not just hitting. Abuse can be kicking, shoving, pushing, pulling hair, throwing things, scaring or following the victim, or keeping them from freely coming and going. It can even include physical abuse of the family pets.
Also, keep in mind that the abuse in domestic violence does not have to be physical. Abuse can be verbal (spoken), emotional, or psychological. A person does not have to be physically hit to be abused.
What are the consequences of a restraining order?
A DVRO restricts your constitutional rights. You can lose your right to free speech, and be prohibited from owning a gun or buying a gun. Your right to freely move about, and visit certain places (including your home), can also be restricted.
For parents, a DVRO can have dire consequences to child custody and can even shift who the primary custodial parent is. In some instances, clients may go from having majority custody of their children to strictly supervised visitation for an hour or less, and at times, that visitation is infrequent.
Specifically, a restraining order can make orders:
- Not contact or go near the protected person, their/your children, other relatives, or others who live with the protected person;
- Stay away from their home, work, or your/their children’s schools;
- Move out of the house (even if you live together);
- Not have a gun;
- Follow child custody and visitation orders;
- Pay child support;
- Pay spousal or partner support (if you are married or domestic partners);
- Stay away from any of their/your pets;
- Transfer the rights to a cell phone number and account to the protected person;
- Pay certain bills, including attorneys’ fees and costs;
- Not make any changes to insurance policies;
- Not incur large expenses or do anything significant to affect your or the other person’s property if you are married or domestic partners;
- Release or return certain property; and
- Complete a 52-week batterer intervention program.
As you can see from the above list, these restrictions have serious consequences.
If You Have Been Served With a DVRO…
- Immediately stop contacting the person seeking the restraining order. This advice applies regardless of whether the actual restraining order prohibits you from contacting that person or not. Ask your attorney if you have to contact the protected person regarding co-parenting issues.
- Review the court orders (see the bottom of the paperwork which reads, “This is a court order”).
- Carefully read what you are prohibited from doing in the court’s orders. Pay attention to every checked box, and anything written in by the judge on the form.
- Depending on the allegations in the petition and the Judge’s decision on the request, the orders may prohibit you from all contact with the protected person.
- The court orders may also require you to move out of the residence, and even stay 100 yards or more away from the protected person(s)’ home, school, work, and self.
- Contact an experienced DVRO defense attorney. Your attorney should be experienced in defending against restraining orders, and be an aggressive advocate for you in court. Find out whether your attorney has taken DVRO cases to trial, and if so, what was the result. Make sure that you feel comfortable being honest and open with your attorney, because she or he will need accurate and truthful information from you to strategize the best defense possible for your case.
- Turn in your firearms to a licensed gun dealer or law enforcement.
Pending Criminal Charges
You may face criminal prosecution based on the allegations in the restraining order. Pending criminal charges are serious, and may result in a conviction for felony domestic violence.
If you are facing criminal charges, it is critical that you not waive your Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate yourself.
Anything that you say or do can be used against you. You should discuss how to best protect your constitutional rights with your attorney.
Handling Communication With the Opposing Party
Not all restraining orders prohibit you from contacting the protected party. Even if you are allowed to contact them, it is a good idea to avoid doing so.
- Stick to brief, respectful, and on-point with necessary topics (e.g., co-parenting if you have a child with the other person).
- Do not discuss the restraining order with them, blame them for seeking the order, or beg them to withdraw it. Any such contact may be used against you at the hearing, and bolster their argument that you are abusive or harassing (even if that is not true).
- Do not post about the restraining order on social media.
- Do not share information with persons other than your attorney.
Again, if the court order prohibits you from contacting the other person, DO NOT CONTACT THEM. Do not email, text, call, or talk to them in person.
About Cortino Law Office: Attorney Christina Cortino handles all aspects of family law litigation. She advises clients on complicated issues related to domestic violence and restraining orders. Christina zealously and aggressively advocates for her clients regardless of whether they are the victim of abuse, or the accused. She believes every client deserves a strong advocate in court. Contact our office today to find out how we can assist with your case.
Disclaimer: This publication is designed to provide our clients and contacts with information they can use to more effectively manage their resources and information. The contents of these publications are for informational purposes only. Neither the publication nor the lawyer(s) who authored it are rendering legal or other professional advice or opinions on specific facts or matters. The author assumes no liability in connection with the use of this publication.