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Legal Advocates for Abused Women – Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need an attorney for my Order of Protection hearing?
1. You do not have to have an attorney go to your hearing with you; the process is set up to accommodate Petitioners acting as their own attorney. You should, however, consider how complicated your case may get (if you have children involved it will be complicated) and the likelihood of the other party having an attorney. It is stressful to be alone when the other person has the benefit of legal advice and representation. The safe route would be to talk to an attorney, or to LAAW’s crisis line, ahead of time to discuss your particular issues and determine how comfortable you will be if you are alone.

You should also remember that if you go to court and are not happy with the result, it is not always easy or possible to change the order. You need to be sure you are prepared as well as you can be before the hearing, rather than thinking you can get an attorney to “fix it” afterwards if things don’t go as you hoped.

Question: What if I don’t have any police reports or other documents to support my Order of Protection petition?
2. Most people don’t have any kind of documentation. This does not mean you will not get an Order of Protection.

Question: Can I dismiss my Order of Protection? How do I do that?
3. You can dismiss your Petition or your actual Order of Protection at any time by going back to the courthouse and filling out the dismissal form (the clerks will have this for you). LAAW strongly suggests that you speak to an attorney or an advocate who specializes in the legal system (such as those who staff LAAW’s crisis line) before doing this, however. Many times a Petitioner dismisses her Petition or Order after receiving erroneous information, such as that the Respondent/abuser will lose his job if the Order is issued. Other times the abuser promises to change and as soon as the Order is dropped he begins abusing again. LAAW supports your right to make the best choice for yourself in this situation, but we do believe that you are entitled to accurate information when you are making a decision like this.

Question: Can I get an Order of Protection for “emotional abuse”?
4. “Emotional abuse” is a very vague term. The purpose of the Order of Protection is to protect from danger, and if one component of your fear is the mental distress you are under, then it is important and can be considered in an Order of Protection hearing. It is admittedly more difficult to obtain an Order when there has not yet been physical or sexual assault, and we encourage you to call us to discuss your situation and discuss whether your safety plan needs to include an Order of Protection.

Question: Do I need an Order of Protection for my children?
5. That depends on many factors. Whether the abuser has any legal rights to these children is the biggest one. Call us to discuss your situation if you are not married to the abuser but have children. This is a situation where you really do need to talk to an attorney before doing anything in the court system.

Many times a woman is told that her Order of Protection will cover her children and she needn’t get a separate Child Order of Protection. This is not true. If a mother files for her own Adult Order of Protection, the court and abuser are only on notice to consider the abuse against the mother. The Order of Protection given to the mother will include custody and visitation arrangements so that the mother can be safe, but this does not necessarily protect the children. If the children are in danger, you should consider filing for a Child Order of Protection.

There are dangers to you in filing for a Child Order of Protection, however. Some courts will involve the Division of Family Services when a Child Order of Protection is filed. All will appoint a lawyer called a Guardian ad Litem who is supposed to represent the best interests of the children. You cannot assume this lawyer will be on your side. Also, not all courts will allow you to dismiss a Petition for a Child Order of Protection, or the resulting order. Allegations of child abuse are taken very seriously. Once you set these events in motion, they are no longer in your control. You should get as much information as you can before filing a Petition for Child Order of Protection.

Question: I dropped my last Order of Protection. Can I get one again?
6. You can refile a Petition any time you experience further abuse. If you have not experienced abuse since you dropped your last Order, you will have a difficult time getting another one.

Question: What services does your agency offer?
7. We offer legal representation at Order of Protection hearings either free of charge or on a sliding scale, depending on your income. Our crisis line is here seven days a week to offer support and information on the legal system. Our crisis line is the only one in the area where the staff has access to attorneys to answer your questions. LAAW also has several different advocacy programs working with local courts and police departments. More information is available through this Web site.

Question: Can I get supervised visitation for my children?
8. The statute allows for that. It is not easy to get, and many times depends on your ability to find a supervisor. If you think your children are in enough danger to need this, you should probably talk to an attorney or call our crisis line to determine the best way to present your information to the judge in hopes of getting it.

Question: Can I leave the state with my children?
9. Maybe. There is no quick and easy answer to this question and LAAW strongly recommends you speak to an attorney before doing this. The consequences if you leave when you shouldn’t have can be dire, including losing custody of your children.

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