Domestic violence in real life doesn’t usually look like it does in the movies. Often, it starts small and gets worse as the abuser spins a web and cuts the victim off from their family, friends, and any source of support. By the time you realize how bad things have gotten, you’re in deep, and you might not know where to turn for help.
In this article, we’ll give you information about what domestic violence is according to Florida law — and where you can turn to get the help you need.
What Is and What Isn’t Domestic Violence Under Florida Law?
People often get frustrated when they try to go to court and bring allegations of domestic violence in Florida. Many times, that’s because they don’t understand the legal concept of “domestic violence”; their idea is often based on things they learned from family and friends, therapists, or even Hollywood movies and TV shows — rather than on the law.
Domestic violence, as far as the law is concerned, is not name-calling, marital spats, verbal fighting, or angry disagreements that descend into meanness. That’s not to say those aren’t serious issues that can make for a toxic relationship — they are! But they aren’t considered domestic violence under the law.
Examples of acts that are domestic violence, according to the Florida General Statutes 741.28 include:
- Physical violence
- Sexual assault
- Physically restraining someone from leaving the home or calling law enforcement
- Threats to commit any of the above acts
- “Any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member” (determining who is a “household member” can be complicated)
If you’re not sure if what you’re going through in your relationship is domestic violence according to the law, that’s okay. The law can be confusing, and that’s why interpreting the law is a full-time job that takes years of study. You can always contact an experienced domestic violence attorney for advice about your unique situation and your legal options. Just be prepared with the knowledge that there are, unfortunately, lots of bad and hurtful behaviors that aren’t grounds for a domestic violence protection order under Florida law.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
First, if you’re afraid for your safety, you need to take any steps necessary to protect yourself and your children. If your spouse gets violent or threatens you or your children with violence, call the police or leave the home with your children and get to a safe place right away.
In general, though, it’s important to talk with a lawyer as soon as possible. The legal issues in a domestic violence case can get complicated fast, especially if you’ve removed the children from your family home without a court order that says you can do so.
A good family law attorney can listen to your story. They can advise you about your legal options and what laws apply to your situation. And they can help you write up a petition for injunction for protection against domestic violence, which is a legal document that asks the court to issue an order that will keep your abusive spouse or partner away from you and give you protection.
What the Domestic Violence Petition Process Looks Like
If you decide to work with a lawyer to file a petition for injunction, here’s what you can expect the process to look like.
- You’ll have a hearing in front of a judge where they review your petition and decide whether to grant it. This is an ex parte (one-sided) hearing — your partner or spouse won’t appear and there’s no chance for them to be heard right now.
- If the judge thinks the information in your petition warrants it, they’ll issue a temporary injunction. An injunction is a civil order that provides protection from abuse.
- There will be a “cooling-off” period based on the terms of the injunction. Your partner or spouse may not be able to see you or your mutual children for two weeks, or they may just not be able to see you, depending on what the judge thinks is appropriate.
- After two weeks, you’ll have a return hearing, where your spouse or partner will appear and get a chance to tell their side of the story. At this point, the judge will have had more time to review the allegations in the initial petition. Then, after hearing additional arguments from both sides in the case, they’ll decide whether to make the injunction permanent.
In our smartphone-driven world, people expect that things will always move quickly, but the legal system works at its own pace. It also takes time to put together the evidence you need to make a successful petition in the first place. If your situation is urgent and you need an injunction today, your petition needs to make it to the courthouse by 4:30 p.m., and your attorney needs some time to write it, too — so if you’re not in your lawyer’s office by 10 a.m. or earlier, you probably won’t be able to get an injunction that day, or earlier, you probably won’t be able to get an injunction that day.
Why Shouldn’t I Represent Myself?
It’s possible to handle a domestic violence petition on your own without a lawyer, but it’s not easy. For one thing, the way you write up the petition and recount events is very important. For someone who’s involved in a relationship, separating the facts that the judge will consider relevant from your own feelings and emotions can be tough.
In addition, writing up your own petition can be risky. If you make a mistake or forget to include something important and your petition gets denied, you’ve just kicked the hornet’s nest. Now your violent spouse or partner will know you want to take legal action against them (and they will probably be angry), but you don’t have an injunction protecting you against them.
Finally, bringing an allegation of domestic violence against your spouse or partner will create a big change in your life. You’ll have to figure out where you’re going to live, who you can depend on for support, and what you’re going to do next. A good family law attorney can help you find the resources you need and give you advice about how to address all these issues so you can start to move on and put your life back together.
Other Resources for Domestic Violence Victims
If you’re being victimized by a violent, abusive partner, you can contact us or an experienced family law attorney in your area right away for help. If you call us, we’ll give you a confidential listening ear, handle your case with urgency, and do everything we can to see that you and your children get to a safe and stable situation.
If you’re not ready to contact a lawyer, though, there are other resources available that may be able to get you started on the path toward help and healing, including:
- The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: Online at http://www.fcadv.org/florida-domestic-violence-hotline-1-800-500-1119 or by phone at 1-800-500-1119 (the website also includes a locator for local center services)
- Harbor House of Central Florida: Online at https://www.harborhousefl.com/ (they have a 24-hour confidential crisis hotline, plus FAQs, pamphlets, and other resources)
The Devolder Law Firm: Helping Domestic Violence Victims in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Bay Area
If you or someone you love is suffering from any form of domestic violence, the team at the Devolder Law Firm is here to help you put a stop to abuse and take charge of the situation. We understand that breaking out of the cycle of an abusive relationship can feel like a huge step, which is why we work with domestic violence victims to explain their rights and legal options with compassion and understanding.
Call us at (813) 773-8233 or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get in touch with you right away to schedule an initial consultation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.