Covid increasing the importance of protections against domestic violence – California among state leaders

The psychological pressures of Covid-19 have made protections against domestic violence more important than ever.  According to a study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, reports of domestic violence jumped across the nation.

  • In Portland, OR public schools were closed on March 16, 2020, and stay-at home orders began on March 23. “Following these events, the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks.”
  • In San Antonio, TX schools closed March 20, 2020, and stay-at-home orders began on March 24. “The San Antonio Police Department subsequently noted they received an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019.”
  • In New York City, NY schools closed March 16, 2020, and stay-at-home orders began on March 22. “During the month of March, the New York City Police Department responded to a 10% increase in DV reports compared to March 2019.”

After hearing this distressing news, perhaps Californians can take heart knowing that California law has some of the strongest protections against domestic violence in the nation.  In fact, in its analysis of the “15 States with Toughest Domestic Violence Laws,” news site listed California as the second toughest in the U.S. (behind only Alaska).

California protections against domestic violence include penalties that are potentially both civil and criminal. This is about the civil process and can be found in the Family Code “Domestic Violence Prevention Act” (starting at section 6200). The purpose of the act is to protect the persons suffering from domestic violence, and to separate the people long enough to resolve the situation—if possible.

The people who can seek such orders are spouses; people who live (or used to live) together; people who are (or were) dating or engaged; and people who share a child. (Also, the children and close relations of any of the people who fall into these categories.) Anyone who does not fall into these categories can seek a Civil Harassment Restraining Order (which I do not cover here).

In California abuse is defined as causing or attempting to cause bodily injury; sexually assaulting someone; placing a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm to themselves or to another person; or engaging in any behavior that disturbs the mental or emotional calm of the other party. Recent case law has held that “coercive control” (stopping someone from economic or personal freedoms) can be considered abuse.

Upon request protective orders can be granted demanding that an accused individual “stay away” from you, your kids, your school, your home, your work, your car, etc. Orders can also be issued for a variety of contingencies: to force someone to move out of the home you share; to get rid of guns in your home, to give you legal control over certain property items (like a cell phone), or even to specify custody and visitation rules involving the children.

Should you need physical protection, one method is to call the police. If the officer believes you are in immediate danger (or that a child is in danger) the officer can have an Emergency Protective Order issued. This order will stay in place for 5 court days or 7 calendar days, which will give you the chance to seek further protective orders from the court.

Whether or not you get an Emergency Protective Order, the next step (or your first step without an EPO) is to file a Request for Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order with the Courts. Forms for the request are available on each county court’s website, or at the county courthouse itself. Filing is free, as is serving the party against whom you are filing.

All orders can be issued based on your written explanation to the court of why you are in fear and need protective orders. Temporary Restraining Orders will be granted or denied within one day of when you file the papers. The court will schedule a court date to decide if those orders should continue for up to five years. The court date will be within 21 days of when the Temporary Restraining Order is granted.

In stressful times such as these, it is important for Californians to know that protections against domestic violence exist. And as this Covid nightmare extends into the second half of 2021, it is natural to assume that frustrations will grow, conflicts will increase, and incidences of domestic violence will climb.  Know how to protect yourself. Know how the law wants to protect you.