Due to the lasting effects a domestic violence final order can have on a person’s life, obtaining an attorney as soon as possible is extremely important; however, if one cannot be obtained right away, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts from the Law Offices of Bucknam, Black and Brazil on defending yourself from a domestic violence petition.
Don’t violate the temporary order. In a Vermont case a number of years ago where a temporary relief from abuse order was issued, the defendant sent the plaintiff a short love note. The temporary order was dismissed, after a hearing, for lack of evidence, but the defendant was charged and convicted of a violation of the temporary restraining order. If the order provides for no contact, that is exactly what it means. The plaintiff can try to contact you, either directly or indirectly, but you must never respond. If you violate the temporary order, you not only will be charged with a crime, but, in my experience, you will have a harder time convincing the court that no abuse occurred.
Don’t give the court the impression you think the plaintiff is crazy or just spiteful, or the court system is biased against you. Family Court judges are conscientious, are dealing with limited facts, and are trying to protect potential victims. In my experience, Family Court judges try hard to be unbiased, and for the most part, they succeed. However, if you are disrespectful to the court or dismissive of the petition or complaint, it will be much harder for the court to rule in your favor.
Don’t just deny the claims; if the only evidence the court hears is the plaintiff’s claims and your denials, the court will likely grant the petition or complaint, because the court will lean on the side of protection.
Do ask for a continuance if you need more time to obtain an attorney and get the facts together. The Vermont statute allows you a continuance if you were unable to obtain an attorney in time for the hearing, and the court will likely allow you a continuance if you can convince the court that you have witnesses that were not available for the hearing, or need more time to prepare In New Hampshire, a continuance will be granted “for good cause shown”, but since New Hampshire provides for more time between the temporary order and the final hearing, a continuance in New Hampshire may not be needed. A continuance means the temporary order remains in place for a longer period of time, but it is worth it. A temporary order, if it does not become a final order, is confidential, and the records will be eventually destroyed by the court.
Do keep any texts, emails or other communications from the plaintiff. The Relief from Abuse or Domestic violence statutes require the court to find not only that abuse occurred but that “there is danger of further abuse.” (Vermont’s statute) or the conduct constitutes a “credible present threat to the petitioner’s safety” (New Hampshire statute). If the plaintiff tries to contact you after obtaining an RFA or DV order, those attempted contacts may be used to persuade the court that the plaintiff does not believe that there is danger of further abuse or a present threat to his or her safety. Remember, however, you can never respond to any communications from the plaintiff after you have been served with a temporary order.
If you have been served with a Domestic Violence Petition, or if you need to obtain a protection order, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to an attorney who is specifically experienced with domestic violence petitions. Call 603-229-0002 or fill out the Lawyer Referral Service online request form.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence or call the 24 hour hotline at 1-866-644-3574