No one expects every divorce to be amicable, but neither should a divorce or separation lead to violence. Yet domestic violence can and does occur in Florida at an alarming rate. During 2010:
- 113,378 crimes of domestic violence were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies;
- 67,810 arrests for domestic violence offenses were made;
- 15,789 survivors of domestic violence received 477,489 nights of emergency shelter.
Recognizing the increasing prevalence of domestic violence in the United States (some estimates suggest that 1 out of 4 women will be the victim of a domestic violence crime at some point in their lives), Florida and many other states have enacted laws providing legal recourse for victims of domestic violence. These laws typically allow victims to obtain some form of injunction or protective order restraining the actions of their abuser.
What is an Injunction?
In Florida, domestic violence victims are able to obtain injunctions against their abusers. An “injunction” is a legal order issued by a judge that restrains or prohibits the abuser from engaging in certain behavior. Because an injunction is issued by a court, it is enforceable by law enforcement agencies like police departments and sheriff offices. Not only this but if the subject of the injunction fails to abide by the terms and conditions of the injunction, civil and/or criminal penalties may follow.
The purpose of any domestic violence injunction is to enable the victim to obtain protection from his or her abuser and to prevent the abuser from engaging in further acts of physical violence, threatening the victim with further abuse, or placing the victim in continuing fear from stalking behavior.
What Types of Domestic Violence Injunctions are Available?
In Florida, there are four types of injunctions available. The precise type of abuse that is occurring and the relationship between the victim and the abuser will usually dictate what injunction is proper for any given situation. The types of injunctions available include:
- Domestic violence injunctions, which are available where the abuser and the victim are considered “family” and where the abuser has engaged in acts of domestic violence that have resulted in physical injury or death to either the victim or any member the victim’s family that lives in the same residence as the victim.
- Sexual violence injunctions, available where the victim and abuser are not considered “family” and where the abuser has engaged in some criminal act of a sexual nature against the victim.
- Dating violence injunctions, available where the victim and abuser dated at some point during the last six months and where the abuser engaged in acts of violence against the victim.
- Repeat violence injunctions are available for situations that do not fit into any other category of injunction and where there has been at least two incidents of physical violence, threats of violence, and/or stalking, one of which must have occurred within the previous six months.
- (The remainder of this discussion will focus on domestic violence injunctions, although the discussion has some bearing on other forms of injunctions as well.)
What Does an Injunction Prohibit the Abuser from Doing?
Once entered as an order of the court, the injunction will be served on the abuser and will tell him or her what he or she may not do as it pertains to the victim. The orders entered as part of the injunction are meant to prevent the abuser from further victimizing the person requesting the injunction (called the “petitioner”). Some common orders entered as part of a domestic violence injunction include:
- No contact orders: A no-contact order directs the abuser to have no contact with the victim/petitioner by any means. This means that the abuser may not call, write, e-mail, text, or otherwise try to communicate a message to the victim. A no-contact order will also prevent the abuser from communicating with the victim through a third-person (i.e., contacting a family member or a mutual friend and requesting that that individual communicate with the victim. No-contact orders remain in effect even if the victim attempts to communicate with the abuser or tells the abuser that he or she can contact him or her.
- No further acts of abuse: Domestic violence injunctions almost invariably prevent the abuser from engaging in further acts of physical violence against the victim/petitioner. The abuser would also be prevented from making threats of violence against the petitioner and/or any of the petitioner’s family members that are living with the petitioner.
- Temporary use of the home: If the abuser lives in the same home as the petitioner does, the court may award the petitioner temporary use and possession of the home. This would require the abuser to leave the residence and find another place to live until the court orders otherwise. If the abuser has personal effects inside the residence, the court may permit him or her to arrange a time with law enforcement that he or she can remove personal items from the home while a law enforcement officer is present.
- Surrender weapons to law enforcement: If the abuser has a firearm or other type of weapon, a domestic violence injunction can require the abuser to surrender the weapon to law enforcement for safekeeping until the court orders otherwise. Unless the court is very familiar with the abuser, the court may not know whether the abuser does possess any weapon. If the court does not order the removal of weapons from the abuser’s possession and you know the abuser does, in fact, possess a firearm or other weapon you may need to specifically request that the court make this order.
- Attend a batterer’s intervention course: A batterer’s intervention course is a type of class designed to identify individuals prone to using violence against others and educate them not only about the legal ramifications of domestic violence but also alternative methods of solving disagreements and disputes without resorting to violent behavior.
What is the Process for Obtaining a Domestic Violence Injunction?
Florida law is designed to enable victims of domestic violence to obtain a temporary domestic violence injunction rather easily. Courts are encouraged by the law to construe a petition for a domestic violence injunction liberally and with the purpose of protecting victims. This means that a court is likely to grant a petition for a domestic violence injunction (so long as the basic requirements are met), at least on a temporary basis, in order to prevent further abuse from happening.
If you apply for a domestic violence injunction, you can expect your request to proceed through the following phases:
- Ensure you meet the basic requirements: A domestic violence injunction requires you to attest that you have been physically abused or threatened with immediate abuse by someone you presently live with, have lived with in the past, are related to by blood or marriage, a spouse or former spouse, or the other parent of your child or one of your children. If you do not meet these requirements, you may wish to see if another form of injunction is available to you. You may also be able to file a domestic violence injunction on behalf of a child.
- Complete the petition for a domestic violence injunction: Next, you will complete a “petition” (a standardized form) that asks you about the act or acts of abuse you have suffered or believe you will suffer and your relationship with the abuser. The petition will also contain a place for you to describe any sort of orders you are specifically requesting the court to make (such as awarding you temporary possession of the home).
- Your petition will be heard by a judge: At this hearing, the abuser will in all likelihood not be present; instead, you and a domestic violence advocate (if you choose to have one) and/or your attorney will present your petition to the judge. The judge will examine the contents of your petition to ensure that the basic eligibility requirements are met and that there appears to be evidence of past domestic violence or imminent domestic violence. The judge will liberally construe the allegations in your petition: so long as there appears to be some merit to your allegations and you meet the basic eligibility requirements, your petition will likely be granted.
- You will be issued a temporary injunction: If the judge finds your petition has merit, a temporary injunction will be issued. A temporary injunction is usually valid for 15 days, although the court can extend this time if the abuser (called the “respondent”) has not been served with a copy of the temporary injunction or if the parties agree to extend the injunction.
- You will have a final hearing before the judge: At the time specified by the court in either the temporary injunction or subsequent order, your petition will come before the court for a final hearing. The purpose of the final hearing is to allow the court to hear testimony and evidence from both parties and determine if there is a reason to make the temporary injunction permanent. As the petitioner and person requesting the injunction, you have the burden of producing enough evidence and testimony to support your request for an injunction. Testimony about past acts of domestic violence and/or threats of future violence, especially when it is corroborated by the testimony of other eyewitnesses, can be especially persuasive. At the end of the hearing, the court can decide to either issue a permanent injunction (which expires after a specific time set by the judge) or to allow the temporary injunction to expire. A court will allow the temporary injunction to expire if it is not convinced there is evidence of past domestic violence and/or credible threats of imminent domestic violence.
- You can ask that the temporary injunction be dismissed before a permanent injunction is entered: As the petitioner, you have the ability to ask that the court dismiss your temporary injunction at any time before the court enters a permanent injunction. If a permanent injunction has already been entered, you may still be able to have the injunction dismissed by filing an appropriate form with the court. If the injunction is dismissed, all of the court’s orders will be of no effect and you will no longer have the protections afforded by the injunction. In addition, you may not be able to have the injunction’s protections reinstated unless additional abuse or threats of abuse occur.
- Contact local law enforcement for assistance in enforcing the order. A temporary injunction or permanent injunction can be enforced by contacting local law enforcement when a violation occurs. For example, if your abuser is ordered not to have any contact with you and your abuser texts you in violation of the order, you can call the local police or sheriff’s department for assistance. Even if the conduct itself would not violate any laws (i.e., it is not against the law to text an individual), if the conduct is prohibited by the injunction, it can be prosecuted as a crime. Possible sanctions the abuser might face include a fine and/or jail time.
A domestic violence injunction is available to victims who are abused or threatened with abuse by certain related individuals. Florida laws are designed to allow domestic violence injunctions to be easily obtainable: so long as the victim (the “petitioner”) shows he or she meets the basic eligibility requirements and provides enough evidence to show abuse has or is likely to occur, a judge will grant a temporary injunction that can prohibit further contact, grant the petitioner temporary use of the home, and other such relief. A temporary injunction only lasts for a short time; a hearing must be held (usually within 2 weeks) to determine if the injunction continues to be necessary. A petitioner is free to dismiss a domestic violence injunction at any time, although a court may make the ultimate decision as to whether the injunction will, in fact, be dismissed.