Many things; for instance, if your spouse threw and broke a plate against the wall while screaming at you and the children, his/her action would probably be deemed abusive by a judge and a temporary restraining order would issue. "Abuse" is defined as "intentionally or recklessly to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury; . . . sexual assault; . . . to place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or to another . . ." (Family Code Section 6203), or to engage in other behaviors: stalking, attacking, striking, threatening, harassing, telephoning, disturbing the peace of, destroying personal property, and a host of others. (Family Code Section 6230.)
What can I do?
Call the police. They are empowered to give you an Emergency Protective Order ("EPO") which will protect you for up to five days. The EPO can mandate that the abuser leave the house and stay away for up to five days. Mind you, the police may not give you an EPO, but you should try.
What happens if I don't get an EPO or it is about to expire?
If you do not get an EPO or if it is about to expire, go to court and present your case to a judge. Judges are not bound by earlier decisions of the police, and have the power to evaluate your case and weigh the evidence independently. Your case must first be presented to the judge in writing, and it is best if you engage an attorney well versed in our Domestic Violence laws to write this all-important document because the judge will normally not talk to the parties at the first hearing -- the judge will evaluate your case only on what you write and how you write it. (If you cannot afford legal counsel, free assistance can be obtained at the court house by going to the Domestic Violence Project at 8:00 a.m.; plan on being there the entire day.) At this stage, the judge can issue a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") which normally lasts about three weeks, at which time there is a hearing to determine whether to issue a "permanent" restraining order.
What happens at the hearing for the permanent restraining order?
Normally, testimony is taken. Your attorney will examine you in the presence of the judge, and will take testimony from the opposing party. Based on this testimony as well as the other evidence (i.e., photos of injuries, documentation of phone calls, testimony of witnesses), the judge will issue orders.
What happens if the other party promises me to never do this again?
Get the restraining orders anyway, and get a provision in them that the two of you can engage in counseling together. Above all, protect your children. If you allow your children to repeatedly witness your spouse or partner abuse you, that is child abuse. You can be charged with failure to protect your children, and your children can be declared wards of the State. If this happens, the children can be taken out of your custody and placed in a setting in which they are safe, which may not be with any of your family members. Domestic violence causes not only physical injuries, but mental and psychological injuries, and our legal system will do everything it can to protect children from suffering any sort of injury.
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