Silence and Domestic Violence

It is not easy to come forward and ask for help, especially when it is personal and may implicate a loved one. The sad truth is that domestic violence is pervasive in our community and can affect anyone, but it often goes unreported. There are ways to protect yourself and there are people to help.

The law provides mechanisms to protect victims of domestic violence. One such tool is a 50B Domestic Violence Protective Order. In Charlotte, an entire courtroom at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse deals exclusively with domestic violence protective orders.

Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes allows parties to seek emergency relief and affords victims an opportunity to be heard on an expedited basis (generally the same day).

Filing for a 50B

In the event of domestic violence, a victim may first file a Complaint and Motion for a Domestic Violence Protective Order. A party may move the court for emergency relief if he or she believes “there is a danger of serious and imminent injury to himself or herself or a minor child.”

The Court will then hold an emergency ex parte hearing (which means that only the plaintiff is present) on the Complaint and Motion for a Domestic Violence Protective Order.

Chapter 50B Requirements

A finding of domestic violence, pursuant to Chapter 50B, requires a personal relationship between aggressor and victim, and includes, in part, “attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury” or placing a person or a member of his or her family or household in fear of “imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment…that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress.”

A personal relationship is defined as: current or former spouses, persons of the opposite sex who live together or have lived together, are related as parents and children, have a child in common, or are persons of the opposite sex who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship.

Getting an Order

If at the ex parte hearing, the Judge determines that there is a danger of serious and imminent injury, the judge will enter what is called a “ten day” ex parte domestic violence protective order. These orders remain in effect until there is a hearing where both parties are present, which is held within ten days or  seven days from the date of service of process on the other party, whichever occurs later. The goal at the hearing is to secure a domestic violence protective order which lasts for one year.

Where emergency relief is sought, but no ex parte order is entered, a hearing will be held after five days notice to the other party or after five days from the date of service of process, whichever occurs first. A hearing will not be held until and unless the opposing party is served.

Note that the Violence Against Women Act provides that no court costs will be assessed  for the filing, issuance, registration or service of a protective order or petition for a protective order or witness subpoena.

Effect of an Order

A domestic violence protective order can be tailored as needed. For example, it can require the defendant to:

• Stay away from the plaintiff
• Refrain from assaulting, threatening, abusing, following, harassing, or    interfering with the plaintiff and any children residing with the plaintiff
• Stay away from plaintiff’s family members
• Relinquish any weapons in his or her possession
• Stay away from plaintiff’s pets
• Stay away from the plaintiff’s place of work, school, shelter and the like

If an individual subject to a domestic violence protective order violates that order, the plaintiff may call the police and that individual will be arrested if the police determine there is probable cause to believe that the order was knowingly violated.  Alternatively, the plaintiff may file a motion for contempt.

Obviously a court order is just a piece of paper, but it is an important tool for victims of domestic violence and can be the first step in a victim protecting him or herself.

If you are victim of domestic violence, seek assistance. Shelters and hotlines are available, in addition to the legal protections described above1. If you think you are in immediate danger, call the police.  Otherwise, contact an agency or attorney to help you. Safe Alliance is a local agency that can help. Legal Aid also offers assistance to victims of domestic violence. Get the help you need.