When the majority of families argue, most of the time everyone cools down and all is well again. However, where families have disputes that escalate into potentially dangerous situations, the court system needs to be used to ensure everyone stays safe. As a result, individuals who have been victims of stalking, harassment, or other related incidents need the services of a lawyer who is skilled in filing what’s known as a family offense petition.
Defining the Family Offense Petition
Filed when a family member claims another family member committed an illegal act against them or another family member, the petition can cover a variety of offenses, including:
For a family offense petition to be filed, the alleged incident must be done against who the courts legally define as “family members.” This definition includes people related by marriage or blood, those who are unrelated but have children together, and people who were previously married. In addition to this, it’s important to note that the day a family offense petition is filed, the person filing the petition has the legal right to a court appearance that same day.
Determining “Good Cause”
During a court hearing, the judge will determine if there is “good cause” to believe the petitioner’s allegations did in fact occur. When this happens, a judge will issue temporary orders of protection, and may also issue a temporary order of child support if needed. Because they are temporary, the orders are in effect until the alleged abusive individual appears in court for a hearing. Once this is done, a summons is issued for the respondent to appear in court. However, if the petitioner is thought to be in danger, the court will issue a warrant for the respondent to be brought to court at once, ensuring no harm comes to the petitioner.
What Can a Respondent Do?
While the petitioner has many options in these situations, so too does the respondent. If named in a family offense petition, the respondent has the option to deny the allegations, admit the allegations are correct, or consent to the order of protection being entered into court. If the allegations in the petition are severe enough, the case can be sent to Criminal Court, where the order of protection will be issued.
In situations where the respondent denies the allegations, the court then needs to conduct a fact-finding hearing to determine what did indeed happen. If after this hearing the court determines the allegations are true, the process then moves on to a dispositional hearing. Yet before this hearing takes place, the judge will order an adjournment so that an evaluation of the conditions, surroundings, and capacities of those involved can be made. However, in some instances, a judge may find the allegations are untrue, and will dismiss the case.
If after all this a dispositional hearing is held, a dispositional order is issued by a judge, and may include a variety of options and requirements. These can include requiring the respondent to pay up to $10,000 in restitution, suspending the judgement for six months, requiring the respondent to complete various treatment programs for drugs, alcohol, or anger, and making the final order of protection good for as long as five years. As for the final order of protection, it can include many requirements the respondent will be required to abide by, or face the possibility of being arrested and put in jail. These requirements can include:
–Paying petitioner’s medical bills for abuse-related injuries
–Staying away from petitioner and children, and also staying away from petitioner’s place of employment and children’s school
–Refrain from committing additional acts that put petitioner’s welfare in jeopardy
–Refrain from injuring or killing any pets owned by petitioner or their children
If any of these conditions are violated, the court will have various legal options that can be enacted at once. These include modifying the order of protection, revoking the respondent’s license to carry a firearm, and transferring the case to Criminal Court for possible jail sentencing. And as with any legal case, both the petitioner and respondent have the right to legal counsel during this process.