Stalking & Domestic Violence
Our Georgia law firm is a boutique law practice focused on helping healthcare providers, professionals, businesspersons, and their family members protect their interests and peace-of-mind, including the safety of their children, their financial assets, and their family's general well-being.Protect Yourself, Your Children, and Your Pets
Domestic violence, stalking, and/or other abuse is a confrontation between family or household members involving physical, psychological, emotional, and/or sexual assault or harm. These confrontations can occur between spouses, former spouses, family members, parent and children, and even those in (or formerly in) a simple romantic relationship. Abusers often use acts of violence as well as psychological abuse (threats, intimidation, and isolation) to bully and control their victim. Physical violence (or threats of violence) are not constant or even necessarily common in an abusive relationship, but they often remain a constant terrorizing factor that the abuser uses to pressure their victim(s) into submission. Domestic violence, stalking, and abuse can happen to anyone anywhere, regardless of their class, religion, ethnicity, education, age, gender, or sexual orientation. Victims of abuse often blame themselves for the abuse that is happening to them, but nothing they could have done or said justifies their partner’s use of violence. No one deserves to be abused, and abuse is not the victim's fault.
An individual disagreement is not necessarily domestic violence; rather, domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by the abuser to maintain power and control over the victim. These behaviors often become more frequent, overt and intense over time. Remember that there is no justifiable excuse for abusive behavior, such as stress, confusion, anger, drugs or alcohol. While each case is different, examples of abusive behavior include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Physical and sexual abuse, such as slapping, punching, choking, forced intercourse, forced confinement, and other acts of physical violence against the victim or the victim's dependents;
Psychological and emotional abuse, such as threats and intimidation of future violence, constant degradation and insult, public humiliation, and other acts causing psychological/emotional distress;
Economic abuse, such as preventing the victim from obtaining employment, restricting financial independence, hiding or preventing access to or control over family income/assets/finances, and other acts fostering economic dependence and/or financial isolation; or
Isolation, such as preventing interactions with friends and other family members, refusing access to communication and transportation, or other acts seeking to quarantine the victim from other individuals who may provide an avenue of escape from the abuser.
Help is available, but it is the victim's responsibility to step up and find the courage necessary to take action towards ending the violence and preventing the abuser from controlling them! Luckily, once a victim takes the first steps towards preventing further abuse, Georgia law provides a procedure for domestic violence victims to obtain protective orders against their abusers that can protect the victim, their children, and their pets. Remember that domestic violence, stalking, and abuse hurts not only the victim, but also the victim's dependents. Domestic violence advocates, attorneys, and the courts understand that being in an abusive relationship is hard and that leaving can be dangerous, but they are here to help you and your dependents escape a cycle of abuse that will only get worse. Do not wait until you or one of your loved ones is hurt to seek help!Family Violence & Stalking Defined
Under Georgia law, protection from abusive relationships typically fall into one of two categories: (a) “domestic violence” (a.k.a. “family violence”; and (b) “stalking.” Domestic violence is defined in Georgia as one or more acts of abuse between: (a) past or present spouses; (b) persons who are parents of the same child; (c) parents and children; (d) stepparents and stepchildren; (e) foster parents and foster children; or (f) other persons living or formerly living in the same household, with “acts of abuse” including the commission or any felony, battery, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass against the other party. Notably, domestic violence does not include reasonable discipline administered by a parent to a child in the form of corporal punishment, restraint, or detention. Stalking occurs where any individual follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another individual, regardless of their connection to one another, without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person, and such conduct causes emotional distress and a reasonable fear for such person's safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family and which serves no legitimate purpose. Neither domestic violence nor stalking require that an overt threat of death or bodily injury be made. Keep in mind that actual violence or stalking behavior does not have occurred recently for the court to enter or continue to enforce a protective order; all that is required is the reasonable fear of future harm/abuse/stalking conduct.The Benefits of Obtaining a Temporary Protective Order
While many shrug off recommendation to obtain a protective order, thinking that there is little a piece of paper can do to protect them, there are numerous reasons to obtain a protective order. As an initial matter, upon the filing of a verified petition requesting a protective order with the relevant court, Georgia's courts will immediately issue a temporary protective order on the spot (i.e., without the need for a hearing or even contacting the party to be restrained). Said temporary protective order can provide a variety of relief other than simply restraining the other party from coming within direct contact from the victim, including:
Prohibiting the abuser from harassing or interfering with the victim, directly or indirectly;
Prohibiting the abuser from purchasing or owning a firearm (and may even require law enforcement personnel to go to the abuser's house and get them);
Awarding temporary custody of (and/or visitation rights to) a parties' minor children;
Establishing temporary child support payments for the support of the minor children;
Granting a party exclusive possession of the parties' residence or household (and excluding the other party from the residence or household);
Requiring a party to provide suitable alternate housing for a spouse, former spouse, or parent and the parties' children;
Establishing temporary payments for the support of the victim (i.e. temporary alimony);
Establishing who shall have temporary possession of personal property of the parties (and/or order assistance in retrieving personal property of the victim from the dwelling of the abuser);
Requiring the abuser to receive psychiatric/psychological evaluations and treatment; and
An award of costs and attorney's fees to the victim to be paid by the abuser.
Any and all temporary or permanent protection orders are immediately forwarded to the sheriff's office for the county where it was entered, such that local law enforcement will already be aware of the victim's situation and need for immediate response in the event of a future incident with the abuser. As such, protective orders are incredibly helpful in the event that law enforcement ever needs to respond to an emergency situation, as it can avoid the “he said, she said” dilemma faced by law enforcement officers responding to domestic dispute calls; with a protective order in place, it is presumed that the altercation is restrained party's fault. Moreover, regardless of which county issued the protective order, it is enforceable by each and every sheriff, deputy or other law enforcement officer within the state of Georgia. As well, for stalking protective orders, victims who have a protective order are entitled to direct notice from the authorities regarding: (a) the abuser/stalker's release/escape from custody; and (b) any hearing on bail for the abuser/stalker. Additionally, while a violation of a protective order may be punished civilly (i.e. by a private action instituted by the victim), it is also a criminal violation that can be prosecuted by the State of Georgia against the violating party without the direct involvement of the victim. For example, a person who violates a term of a family violence protective order may be guilty of a misdemeanor that may be punished by up to 12 months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.The Process of Obtaining a Temporary and/or Permanent Protective Order
If you want to obtain a protective order, your first step is to speak with a lawyer regarding the options available to you based on the specific facts of a case. In a time-sensitive emergency, however, you should skip this step and go directly to the superior court of your county and ask the clerk of court for assistance in obtaining a protective order. Once you have spoken with an attorney (or have proceeded directly to the Courts due to immediate emergency), a victim may file a petition in the superior court seeking a protective order for their protection (or the protection of a minor child or children). This petition must allege that the victim (or the minor child on whose behalf the petition is filed) was the victim of one or more instances of family violence and/or stalking conduct in the past. Once the victim has filed their petition, the Court may issue a temporary protective order on an ex parte basis (i.e., without notice to the person against whom the order is sought) to prevent further violence or stalking. Within thirty (30) days of the Court issuing said ex parte temporary protective order, a hearing must be held to determine whether the temporary protective order will continue to enforced. Both the victim and the abuser will be entitled to tell their sides of the story and present evidence at said hearing, at the conclusion of which the Court will make a determination as to whether said protective order will be extended to have a duration of one (1) year, three (3) years, or even be made permanent.Modifying and/or Terminating Protective Orders
A restrained party may seek a modification and/or termination of a protective order entered against them only on limited grounds. Namely, the restrained party must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that a material change in circumstances has occurred, such that the resumption of family violence and/or stalking conduct is not likely and justice would be served by the modification/termination of the protective order. Factors considered by the court in these cases include, but are not necessarily limited to:
The present nature of the parties' relationship, including proximity of shared residences and any shared parental responsibilities;
The restrained party's history of compliance with (and/or violation of) the protective order;
The restrained party's history of violence, both before and after the entry of the protective order;
The restrained party's efforts to undergo family violence therapy or similar counseling or rehabilitation;
The age and health of the restrained party;
Any undue hardships suffered as a result of the entry or existence of the protective order; and
The nature and evidence supporting the victim's objections to the modification/termination of the protective order.
As such, whether you are seeking to modify/terminate a protective order (or are seeking to prevent the modification/termination of a protective order), it is critical to retain an experienced family law attorney who can help explain your rights to you and help you prepare to defend your position in Court.Staying Safe
It is important to remember that, while there are many benefits to a protective order, a protective order is just one part of preventing future abuse and stalking and otherwise keeping yourself and your dependents safe. To fully protect yourself, it is important to take actions in your own life to prepare you against future violence/stalking, such as:
Developing a safety plan regarding what to do in various situations if the abuser confronts you or your children, including where you will go, with whom you will stay, and who will watch the children. Discuss this safety plan with your children, and review it on a regular basis so as to keep it fresh in your minds;
Changing the locks on your house and car and installing devices to secure your doors and windows from forced entry;
Contacting your children's school, day-care/childcare providers, and extracurricular activity providers (sports, camp, etc.) and letting them know who is authorized to pick up, visit with, or even obtain information regarding your children;
Inform your landlord and neighbors that your abuser is not allowed on your property and ask them to contact law enforcement officials if they see him/her near your property or if they hear or see a disturbance. If possible, provide a photograph of your abuser to your landlord and neighbors so that they can recognize him/her on sight;
Inform your office's building security (and coworkers you trust) about your situation and inform them that your abuser is not allowed on the property and ask them to contact law enforcement officials if they see him/her on the property. If possible, provide a photograph of your abuser to building security so that they can recognize him/her on sight;
Vary your routes to and from work or other activities and arrange for someone to escort you to your car, bus or other means of conveyance;
If an argument or dispute with the abuser seems unavoidable, move to a room or area with easy access to multiple exits and away from weapons ( e.g., not a kitchen or bathroom);
Identify which door, window, stairwell or elevator offers the quickest way out of your present location – and practice your evacuation route;
Have a “go” bag packed and ready in case you need to leave the area immediately and cannot return to your residence for several days. Keep your “go” bag in an undisclosed but accessible location where you can retrieve it quickly without fear of attack from your abuser;
Devise a code word to use with your children, family, and friends when you need the police immediately;
Every case is different; in emergencies, rely on your instincts and judgment. Remember, you have a right to protect yourself when you are in danger. If possible, however, try to escape the situation and contact the authorities for help. As well, in some. situations, you may want consider giving the abuser what he/she wants to defuse a dangerous situation; and
If you have a protective order, keep a copy of it with you at all times (such as a copy in your glove-box, handbag, etc.) and do not be afraid to show it to law enforcement officials or other third parties.
While relatively rare, false accusations of stalking and/or domestic violence do occur and can be extremely damaging to one's reputation and relationships, both professional and personal. If you are accused of committing domestic violence or a stalking offense in Georgia, you should speak with an experienced lawyer immediately. The entry of a protective order against you (whether said order is ex parte, temporary, or permanent in nature) can have serious and immediate consequences on your income, employment, familial and social relations, housing, and child custody/support, among others. As such, it is critical to speak with a skilled family law attorney who can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the allegations made against you, advise you of available defenses and court procedure, and help you develop a strategy to overcome any false allegations made against you. Said lawyer can seek to have the protective order dismissed, modified and/or terminated, negotiate a reduction in charges or penalties, and can even represent you before a jury if your case proceeds to trial. Having an experienced family law attorney in your corner to guide you throughout the process and help you avoid potential pitfalls you may not recognize is essential to protecting your rights and minimizing the devastation that can result to your reputation, relations, and finances from a false accusation of domestic violence and/or stalking. Remember, the Georgia legislature drafted the domestic violence and stalking protective order laws to be used as a shield by victims, not as a sword to be wielded by the disgruntled or those who would deceive the court for their own gains.Atlanta and Augusta Family Law Firm for Healthcare Providers and their Family Members
Hamil Little’s attorneys have extensive experience in family law and domestic relations actions in Georgia's courts and otherwise guiding and assisting healthcare providers, professionals, businesspersons, and/or their family members in avoiding legal pitfalls associated with their personal lives, relationships, and family. Our law firm has offices in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. Contact us at (404) 685-1662 (Atlanta) or (706) 722-7886 (Augusta) to schedule a confidential consultation.