A Pandemic in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Domestic Violence
It’s a sad but true fact – shelter-in-place orders may have been meant to protect Americans from the novel coronavirus pandemic, but they have inadvertently put many victims of domestic abuse in even more danger. Studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic has made domestic violence more common and more severe than ever before. Fortunately, if you are facing domestic abuse, you do have legal options that can help you. Contact the Don Turner Legal Team if you are facing family violence and let our attorneys get you the help you deserve.
Domestic violence has increased during the rise of COVID-19 for a number of reasons. An abuser’s isolation tactics can be harder to spot, due to social distancing becoming the norm. Economic hardships can increase tension and make it harder for the victim to leave if their abuser is the sole wage-earner in the household. Restrictions on movement can make it more difficult for a victim to get help and harder for their loved ones to realize something is wrong. This has been and continues to be an incredibly dangerous time for domestic abuse victims.
What Counts as Domestic Violence?
Domestic, or family violence is a pattern of deliberately abusive or violent behavior that occurs between two people in a domestic relationship. This includes current and former spouses or intimate partners, parents and children, and roommates or housemates. Domestic abuse is carried out in order to establish power and control, and while it is typically understood to be physical, it does not have to be. Stalking, property damage, or any felony act committed between the people mentioned above can also be considered family violence.
Georgia punishes acts of domestic violence more severely. If a simple assault or battery is considered family violence, it would be considered a high and aggravated misdemeanor, as opposed to a simple misdemeanor. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 12 months in prison; however, a high and aggravated misdemeanor also carries a steeper fine of up to $5,000.00. If a crime of battery is considered family violence, and it is the person’s second time being charged, it is considered a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
How Can the Courts Help Protect Me?
If you or someone you love is facing domestic abuse, Georgia’s courts have a remedy that can help – a total protective order (TPO), otherwise known as a restraining order. This is a formal court order made to protect abuse victims from their abuser. A TPO may require an abuser to refrain from harassing their victim, keep a certain distance away from them, prevent the abuser from harming pets or property that they might have shared with their victim, and keep an abuser from disconnecting utilities or cancelling your insurance.
If your abuser lives in Georgia, you can file for a TPO in their county of residence; if they do not live in Georgia, you should file in the superior court where you live or where the family violence occurred. You can find the necessary forms for filing a TPO right here. After you file the required paperwork, the court will grant you a temporary ex parte order, should they feel that your life is in immediate danger. This order is meant to protect you until your TPO hearing and will remain effective for 30 days, or until the date of said hearing.
During a TPO hearing, you and your abuser will be required to appear before a judge and explain your sides of the story in order to determine whether or not you qualify for a long-term protective order. You must attend this hearing – failure to do so will cause your temporary ex parte order to expire, and you will be forced to re-apply for one. If your abuser fails to show up, the judge may still grant a long-term protective order, or they may order a new hearing date.
A long-term protective order offers the same protections as a temporary ex parte order, although it may include additional provisions, such as requiring your abuser to attend counseling or pay your attorney’s fees. By default, a long-term protective order will last for one year, although a judge may extend it for up to three. If you need an extension, you will have to petition the court for a hearing regarding one. Your abuser will have a right to be present at this hearing.
What if My Abuser Violates the TPO?
It is illegal to violate the terms of a restraining order under Georgia law. A person who violates a protective order can be held in contempt of court and face criminal charges. By default, violating the terms of a protective order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.00. However, if the person violating the TPO broke the terms of said protective order by engaging in stalking behavior, they can be charged with aggravated stalking, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
Domestic violence has continued to be an often insidiously silent and deadly pandemic within a pandemic, even a year after the rise of COVID-19. Although this continues to be a dangerous time for victims, there are ways that the courts can help protect you. If you have filed a petition, or would like to file a petition for a protective order, contact the Don Turner Legal Team and see how our lawyers can help you.
If you or a loved one is facing domestic violence, please contact the Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-33-HAVEN (1.800.334.2836).