How to defend yourself against domestic violence accusations

Previously I discussed the importance of knowing how to protect yourself against domestic violence in all its forms. But what about the converse? What if you are accused of domestic violence? (Reminder: this blog does not cover criminal charges. It only covers how to defend oneself in the family court against domestic violence accusations.)

Don’t avoid service. Hiding as if you are Public Enemy #1 avoid the FBI is not going to help you. Eventually the sheriff or process server is going to find you. Like most problems in life, it’s better to just face them head on. Accept the papers and plan your defense.

Temporary Orders? Once you have received the papers immediately make a careful note of whether any temporary orders have been issued. If they have: Follow them to the letter! No matter how false or stupid you think the underlying accusations are, a judge has put them in place, and you must follow them. Remember, the judge who signed the temporary orders is most likely the judge who will hear the whole case. Don’t upset him/her by failing to do exactly as ordered until the matter can be heard in court.

Mark your calendar. Be sure you understand when the first court date is for your case and the instructions for how you are to appear. Some courts are still doing all Zoom hearings; others are insisting on live appearances in masks. Make sure you know exactly where you need to be and when.

Continuance. The person accused of domestic violence is allowed to ask for one automatic continuance of the court date under California law. You must show up at the court date to ask for that continuance, but if you need more time to get ready or to get a lawyer, this is a good available option.

Hire a lawyer sooner than later. If you are planning to hire a lawyer to help defend you, do not wait. Even with the “automatic continuance” rule the sooner you have someone defending your interest the better things are likely to go for you. Even if you are guilty of the actions accused in the Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order, a good lawyer experienced in DV defense can lessen the impact of any orders issued against you.

Meticulously review the review the Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order. Whether you are planning to hire a lawyer or not, go through every allegation and factual statement in the Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (and any declarations attached to that request) and then write down what is wrong or inaccurate and detail why it is incorrect. Also note anyone who can serve as a witness and tell the Judge what really happened. Keep these notes and the list of potential witnesses with you if you go to speak to a lawyer.

Read the court papers. Read all the court papers, fill in the Response to Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order, and prepare any factual declarations that you or your witnesses are going to sign. Have them ready to file by the date written on the court papers you were served with. If you are going to hire a lawyer, let the lawyer help you prepare and file those papers.

Court date and Hearing date could be different. In many courts the first court date will not be the actual hearing date, whether or not you ask for a continuance. You will need to have your witnesses available regardless, but do not be surprised if the judge is busy with other matters and assigns you a different date for the actual hearing.

Court Demeanor. When you go to court do not lie and always be respectful to the judge. Arrive on time, dress conservatively, and do not go near or say anything to the person who is accusing you or the people they might bring to court.

Child Custody and other issues. Domestic violence accusations and a domestic violence restraining order can hurt you in child custody matters, might mean you will have to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees, and may even hurt you when applying for a job. A good defense against domestic violence accusations is important and possible if you “take care of business” from the moment you are served the court papers.