When in doubt, get out.
Call 911 for police protection and medical help. If you are calling from a cell phone, you must tell the dispatcher your street address.
What the police can do
The police must:
- Make an arrest if they have reason to believe a crime has been committed. The police should arrest only the primary physical aggressor. An arrest doesn't necessarily mean the abuser will go to jail, so you may want to go to a safe place.
- Complete a domestic incident report. Be sure you read and agree with the report before you sign it. They should give you a copy.
The police can also:
- Help you get to a safe place away from the violence.
- Help you get medical attention for injuries sustained.
- Help you get necessary belongings from your home as you leave. Later, with an Order of Protection, you can go back with a police escort for other things.
What the courts can do
If you have been the victim of a domestic violence offense, you can go to court for an Order of Protection.
An "Order of Protection," sometimes called a "Restraining Order," is an order from either the Family, Criminal, or Supreme Court that orders an abuser to stop committing offenses against you. You have the right to request the court include your children.
Find out in advance how the courts work. Very briefly:
- The purpose of Family Court is to end the violence.
- The purpose of Criminal Court is to punish an abuser.
- The purpose of Supreme Court is to obtain a divorce and divide marital property.
Even if there is a case against your abuser in Criminal Court, you can still go to Family Court. You can choose Family Court if the person who harmed or threatened you is:
- Someone you married or divorced
- The parent of your child
- Related to you by blood - parent, sibling, child
You can go to Criminal Court no matter what the relationship is between you and your abuser. If you are already in the process of divorce in Supreme Court, your Supreme Court Justice can issue you an order of protection.
This is a civil court and can issue Orders of Protection. Family Court also deals with custody, support, and visitation. Initially the Family Court issues a Temporary Order of Protection. The Order becomes effective only when it is served to the abuser by the police or anyone over the age of 18. You cannot serve the order. Then, a date is set for you and your abuser to return to court. If your abuser admits to the allegations, or consents to abide by the Temporary Order, it will become "permanent." If your abuser denies the allegations, a date will be set for a "fact finding hearing" which is like a trial. If the court finds that your abuser did what you said, your order of protection will be made "permanent."
"Permanent" doesn't mean that the Order of Protection will last forever. "Permanent" usually means that the order will last for a fixed amount of time, usually three to five years.
There are three Family Courts: New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers. Those in White Plains and Yonkers have Family Court Legal Programs staffed by lawyers and advocates to help women who are abused by their partners. They can help you understand your legal options, prepare your petition and accompany you to court (Phone numbers on back page.)
If the District Attorney brings a criminal case against your abuser on the basis of a police report (called a Domestic Incident Report or "DIR" or a criminal complaint) describing violence against you, you may receive a Temporary Order of Protection from the court. It will come by mail. If you do not receive one, or if you want to find out the status of the case against your abuser, call the Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Bureau in the Special Prosecution Division of the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. (Phone numbers on back page.)
If your abuser is convicted of the offense against you, the Temporary Order of Protection can be made "Permanent." (Again, "Permanent" does not mean "forever.") Your abuser will have a criminal record.
- Even if a criminal case has been brought against your abuser, you can still go to Family Court if you are eligible. You can have a case in both courts.
- A violation of an Order of Protection from either court is a new offense and could be punished by time in jail.
- The person who is protected by an Order of Protection cannot violate it -- only the abuser can violate it.
Orders of Protection
An Order of Protection can be tailored to meet your needs. Most of them order the abuser not to "harass, assault, or threaten" you. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, they may also order the abuser to:
- Leave and stay away from the place you (or your children) live, work, or go to school
- Remove personal belonging with a police escort
- Have no communication with you and/or your children, including by any third party or electronic means
visit with your children through supervised visitation.
- Pick-up children for visitation only in a safe public place: a restaurant, community center or police station
- Pay child support for his children
- Cover costs of medical treatment for injuries resulting from the abuse
- Pay your attorney's fees
- Surrender any and all guns, and suspend and/or revoke licenses to own them
- Attend classes for batterers and if appropriate, treatment for drugs and/or alcohol abuse
- Refrain from endangering the health, safety or welfare of child
The Family Court can also grant you temporary custody of your children. If you are no longer living with your abuser, you can request that the court keep your present address confidential.
Please remember - an Order of Protection is only as effective as three things:
- Your ability to call 911 in an emergency
- How fast the police will respond
- Your abuser's respect for (and fear of) the law and police