What Should I Do If I Feel Threatened By My Spouse During Our Separation or Divorce?

It is no secret that while a large percentage of divorces are cordial, sometimes the breakdown of a marriage involves violence or a threat of violence. Unfortunately, highly emotional situations may bring out the worst in some people. What should you do if you are faced with physically dangerous situation, or a threat of harm?

First, if you are in immediate danger, call 911 immediately and leave the home if you reside with your spouse. After this, Virginia law provides protection for you through protective orders. In a domestic situation, there are three types of protective orders you can obtain.  

The first is what is called an emergency protective order. These last for 72 hours and are issued by either a judge or magistrate. The second type is a preliminary protective order. These are granted by a judge in an “ex parte” proceeding, or a hearing where the other side is not present. These can be granted for up to two weeks in duration, or sometimes longer depending on whether there are other criminal charges pending due to the violence or threat of violence. The third and final type is the permanent protective order, which can be granted for up to two years.

In order to obtain a permanent protective order, the court must make two findings. First is that an act of “family abuse” has occurred. “Family Abuse” means any act of violence, force, threat that results in bodily injury or places the victim in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury. Second, the court must find that it is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the petitioner(s). During the permanent protective order hearing, the other side will usually be present and have the opportunity to present evidence. In my experience, most judges will want to see more than just verbal testimony before entering a permanent protective order. Photos of bodily injuries, explicit threats in text messages or e-mails, and eyewitness testimony from third parties are some examples.

What happens when a judge enters a protective order? First, a no-contact order can be issued by the court. Second, a court has a broad array of powers when it comes to protective orders. Some examples are: The court can order that the victim receive exclusive possession of the parties’ residence; the victim receive temporary possession of a vehicle that is jointly owned; the perpetrator maintain insurance and pay taxes on the vehicle; award custody and child support of minor children; order  the perpetrator to provide suitable alternative housing for the petitioner and pay for utilities; and award the victim possession of the family pet. Additionally, protective orders can prevent the perpetrator from obtaining and maintaining employment. Finally, a person who has had a protective order entered against them is legally prohibited from owning, purchasing or transporting a firearm.

Protective orders are extremely powerful tools, and can have an enormous impact on a person’s life and any further litigation, such a custody case or a divorce case. If you or someone you know is considering asking for a protective order or is looking to have a protective order dismissed, call or e-mail me at 804-320-6600 or jbaez@hmalaw.com for more information.

This post is provided as an educational service and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers in need of assistance with a legal matter should retain the services of competent counsel.