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Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Preparing for Mediation

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Preparing for Mediation

This is the sixth and final article in a series about DVROs. Begin the series here.

This article pertains to mediation at Sacramento’s Family Court. Check your local jurisdiction for specific instructions in your family courthouse.

What Is Mediation?

Child Custody Recommending Counseling, or mediation, is required when child custody or visitation issues are in dispute. Almost all cases of child custody where the parties cannot agree are sent to mediation.

If you have minor children in common with the respondent of your DVRO (your abuser), you will most likely be sent to child custody mediation. Even if you are granted a restraining order, the court will not necessarily take away the other parent’s rights regarding his or her child.

If you have included your children as “Protected Persons” on your DVRO request, the court has to decide whether the children will be in danger if they are in the custody or presence of the respondent (the other parent).

The court counselor (or mediator) is there to help you and the other parent come to an agreement about how to share responsibility for your children.

It’s important to think carefully about what you want and where you are willing to compromise. Domestic violence that has occurred between you and your abuser will not be the subject of mediation or be taken much into account for custody and visitation unless it included a danger of harm to the children. The mediator’s sole concern is what is in the best interests of your child(ren).

If you have a DVRO, you can meet separately from the other parent. Often, you meet on the same day, but at different times or in different rooms. You can ask for this service when you make your mediation appointment. You can also wait in a separate room, so you don’t have to be with your abuser while you wait for your appointment.

When a DVRO is in place, chances are you don’t want your abuser to have custody, shared custody, or visitation. However, there must be compelling evidence to prevent a parent from seeing his or her child.

Evidence

If you have evidence of danger to your children from their other parent, you may file it with the court and serve the other parent, five days before your mediation appointment. File your proof of service and bring it a copy of the evidence and the proof of service with you to mediation. Evidence may include documented instances of child abuse or other past violent crimes, arrest records, or anything you think is a compelling reason to limit access of the other parent to your children. Do not assume the mediator will read the contents of your DVRO. File and serve anything you want the mediator to see, and bring it with you.

Preparing for Mediation

In Sacramento, there are some basic steps you must take to be prepared for child custody mediation.

When your mediation hearing is scheduled, you will be given a Parenting Plan Questionnaire to complete. It’s important to take the time to complete this information before your mediation date. It will ask you to specifically outline a parenting plan for your child(ren).

You must decide how to divide both physical and legal custody. Physical custody determines where the child lives. Legal custody determines who makes decisions on behalf of the child, including school, medical, and other legal matters.

The Parenting Plan Questionnaire also requires you to fill in a calendar with your requested division of custody/visitation, and answer several questions about what is important to you as a parent.

The mediator then compares your parenting plan to the other parent’s plan, and tries to find common ground and compromise so you can present a united plan to the judge. If you cannot come to agreement with the other parent, the mediator makes his/her own recommendation to the judge, based on your and the other parent’s interviews in mediation. The judge makes the final orders after reading the mediator’s report.

In Sacramento, you are also required to complete the online Orientation program at the Families Change website. Register for this course online, and allow several hours to complete all the sections. You can print your confirmation that you completed the course and take it to your mediator.

Your Child’s Voice

If your child is over the age of five or six, the mediator will probably speak to them. Be sure your don’t try to lead your child into saying something in particular. Even saying, “You must tell the truth” can be construed as you coaching your child. Depending on his or her age, just explain to the child that the court wants to hear what they want. Reassure your children that you love them and they are safe.

How We Can Help

ACFP offers mediation preparation services to our clients. At your mediation preparation appointment, we can assist you with your Parenting Plan Questionnaire, answer questions about the online course, and help you prepare to speak with the mediator.

You may also request a support person from ACFP to accompany you to the courthouse on your mediation day. If your mediation appointment is scheduled with the other parent, your support person can accompany you into the appointment. If you have separate mediation, the advocate can wait for your outside.

For further assistance, you can email legal@acommunityforpeace.org or call for an appointment at (916) 728-5613

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Preparing for Your DVRO Court Hearing

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders:  Preparing for Your DVRO Court Hearing

This is the fifth article in a series about DVROs. Begin the series here.

Once your DVRO is filed, served, and you have copy of your filed proof of service, you are ready to prepare for court.

Along with the DVRO, the respondent (your abuser) was served with a respondent’s package. This gives him/her the right to formally respond to the accusations you have made in your DVRO. If the respondent chooses to file a response, you must be served with a copy of that response. This service can be done by mail or in person. In many cases, the petitioner (you) won’t receive your copy of the response before the court hearing.

If the judge says there has been a response filed with the court, and you haven’t seen it, ask the judge for a few minutes to review the response. The judge will usually let you sit back in the audience of the courtroom while s/he hears another case to give you time to review the response.

Basic Court Protocol

There are a few basic rules to remember when going to court:

  1. Dress in an appropriate, professional manner. Don’t wear sleeveless or low-cut tops, flip flops, hats, shorts or jeans. Look respectful and professional.
  2. Do not bring anyone under 18 into the courtroom. If you have children, do your best to find childcare for them on the day of your hearing. As a last resort, there is an emergency nursery in the William Ridgeway Family Courthouse in Sacramento. However, when it is full, they will turn you away. You cannot bring your children into the courtroom, nor leave them alone in the hallway.
  3. Do not chew gum in court.
  4. Turn off your mobile phone before entering the courtroom. You will be removed from court if your phone makes any noise.
  5. Speak respectfully to the judge and call him/her, “Your Honor.”
  6. Do not engage in arguments or answer back to the respondent. If something is said that you disagree with, say, “Your Honor, may I respond?” Then speak directly to the judge.

The courtroom has a small audience area for those who are waiting for their cases to be heard. A bailiff and a court clerk are also present. Go into the courtroom when the bailiff calls your docket time (the time your hearing is scheduled) or a couple of minutes before your hearing time. Sit quietly in the audience and wait until the bailiff and clerk begin the process of roll call.

Answer when your name is called. Bring a copy of your proof of service with you to court, in case the court does not have the filed copy. If you cannot produce a proof of service when requested, your hearing will be continued (delayed) or dismissed.

Facing Your Fears

Going to court can be intimidating. It can be even more intimidating to face your abuser. Many domestic violence victims feel emotionally triggered and upset by seeing their abuser and having to sit near him or her in court.

You can prepare in advance by knowing what helps you stay calm and focused. Pressing your feet into the floor and taking deep, slow breaths to ground yourself can be helpful. Stay focused on what you want.

You are allowed one support person to stay with you in court. This person cannot speak for you or go with you to the front of the courtroom when your case is called. However, s/he can sit with you in the audience, hold your hand, help you remember to breathe, and act as a second set of ears to help you remember everything that is said.

Make notes in advance, so you remember what you want to say. It’s fine to read from your notes if you are feeling nervous.

What Do You Want?

Your court hearing has been scheduled because you filed your DVRO; everyone is in court because you asked them to be, and you are asking the court for something. This is your moment to ask for what you want.

Have a short, concise statement prepared that outlines what you want and why you want it. For example:

“Your Honor, I’m asking the court to make the temporary restraining order permanent for the full five years, to grant me full legal and physical custody of our children, and to limit the respondent to supervised visitation only. I ask the court for this because, as I outlined in my request, he has repeatedly shouted, threatened and intimidated me at home in front of the children, and on February 2, as outlined in my most recent incident of abuse, he twisted my wrist and threw me to the ground, leaving bruising and a bad sprain. The hospital record is in my request for restraining orders. This is the second time his anger has escalated to physical violence, and I’m now living in constant fear of him. He has also threatened to take the children and has strong ties in Missouri. Do you need me to elaborate on anything?”

Be clear, detailed and precise in your requests and your reasons, but don’t go into long explanations or tangents. The hearing will be usually be short, and the judge will cut you off if you meander or go on too long, or ask for too many things.

ACFP’s Legal Services advocates can help you review your orders in advance, so you can decide what you want to keep and/or change from the temporary orders, and prepare your statement.

The respondent will have the chance to make a statement too. Try not to engage in back and forth accusations with the respondent. Often, abusers make wild and baiting accusations about their accuser. Don’t be drawn in. At most, ask the judge if you can respond and then simply state what is and is not true. Judges don’t typically respond well to people arguing back and forth in their courtrooms, so try to be the responsible adult in the room, and don’t engage.

Custody Mediation

If you have children and are asking for custody and visitation orders, the judge will almost always send you to court ordered mediation to try to work out a parenting plan.

At the conclusion of your hearing, wait for your paperwork from the bailiff, and then go to the mediators’ office (At Ridgeway Court in Sacramento the mediators are on the first floor, Room 104.) The person at the window will give you an appointment for mediation, and paperwork to be completed in advance. You may request separate mediation if you have a DVRO. You can also ask to wait in a private waiting room so you don’t need to be near your abuser.

Before you leave the courtroom, the judge will set another hearing after your mediation, when custody and visitation orders will be made.

For more information about the mediation process, read Preparing for Mediation.

Evidence

One of the challenges of DVRO hearings is that they often consist of two people saying opposite things with little evidence to back up their claims. It can make it difficult for the judge to decide to issue long-term restraining orders without much evidence to support your request.

If you have evidence to back up your claims, include them as attachments to DV100 – Recent Abuse in your DVRO packet. Evidence can include:

  • Photos of injuries or damaged property
  • Emergency Protective Orders
  • Arrest records and criminal history
  • Hospital records
  • Witness statements
  • Anything that supports your claims

If more evidence has come to light since you filed your DVRO (including violation of your temporary restraining order), you can ask for it to be considered before final orders are made at the hearing. You can file your evidence with the court in advance, and serve a copy to the respondent. If you don’t have time to file it in advance, bring three copies of the evidence to court and ask the judge to consider it. Judges have leeway when deciding what to admit, so if you believe you have important information, you can always ask the judge to consider it.

Conclusion

Going to court can be a nerve-wracking and confusing process. When you are escaping from domestic violence, it can be even more traumatic. Know your rights and responsibilities going in. Be focused and prepared. And speak your truth.

ACFP’s advocates can support you through the process.

For further assistance, you can email legal@acommunityforpeace.org or call for an appointment at (916) 728-5613

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Filing and Serving Your DVRO

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Filing and Serving Your DVRO

This is the fourth article in a series about DVROs. Begin the series here.

Filing Your DVRO

This article pertains to filing within Sacramento County, California. If you live outside Sacramento County, contact the court in your own county for specific filing instructions.

Once you’ve completed your DVRO paperwork, you must file it with the court and serve it to your abuser before your restraining order will be in effect.

In Sacramento, take your paperwork to:

William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse
3341 Power Inn Road
Sacramento, California 95826
916-875-3500

GOOGLE MAP LINK TO Courthouse

Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Monday – Friday, excluding court holidays

Your DVRO forms must be signed and dated on the date you file. At ACFP, we recommend you don’t date and sign the forms until you arrive at the courthouse.

If your forms are filed by 2:00 p.m., you will receive your temporary orders from the judge on the same day, at 3:45 p.m. In order to be certain your DVRO will be filed by 2:00 p.m., we recommend arriving no later than noon. However, the earlier you can arrive, the better. You can file your DRVO until 4:00 p.m. However, if you file after 2:00 p.m., you won’t receive your temporary orders until 3:45 p.m. the following day.

You will present your forms to the court clerk. If there are any errors or problems, the clerk will send you away to correct them. When your forms are correct, the clerk will stamp them. You have now filed your DVRO.

Return to the court clerk at 3:45 p.m. the same day (or the following day, if you filed after 2:00 p.m.). Do not be late! At ACFP, we recommend you arrive early, giving yourself plenty of time to get through parking and building security. If the clerk calls your name and you aren’t there, you won’t receive your orders until the following day at 3:45 p.m.

Understanding Your Temporary Orders

When it’s time to receive your orders, the clerk will call your name, and hand you a packet. This packet is your temporary restraining order. It will be in effect from the moment it is served on your abuser until your court hearing date.

Your packet will include:

  • Notice of your hearing date, time and location.
  • Two to three copies of your temporary orders.
  • A blank packet for the respondent to complete.
  • A blank proof of service form.

ACFP’s legal advocates can go over your forms with you and help you understand what the orders mean. The judge may grant all your requests, grant some requests and deny others, or deny all your requests. However, regardless what the judge decides, these orders are temporary. They are only in effect from the moment they are served until your court hearing. At the hearing, the judge will make permanent orders.

Serving Your DVRO

The respondent (your abuser) must be served in person with the DVRO. That means you cannot mail, fax or leave the DVRO on a doorstep, etc. The paperwork must be handed to the respondent. If s/he refuses to take the paperwork, it can be dropped at his/her feet.

There are several ways to serve a DVRO. When choosing a method of service, consider the level of danger the respondent poses, the ease of finding the respondent, hours s/he will be at the address listed, etc.

To serve your DVRO you can:

  • Have a person mutually known to you and the respondent serve the paperwork. The server cannot be:
    • You
    • Anyone listed as a protected person on the DVRO
    • Anyone under 18
  • Have the DVRO served by law enforcement. In Sacramento, the Sacramento County Sheriff will serve your DVRO free of charge. For sheriff’s service, take your packet to the Sheriff’s office at William Ridgeway Courthouse where you file your DVRO and follow the instructions to fill out the form for sheriff’s service.
  • Hire a professional process server.

Note: the address you put for the abuser on the DVRO is the address a process server or the sheriff will use to attempt to serve him/her.

Staying Safe During the Service Period

ACFP highly recommends that you assess your danger level and make a safety plan for this time period. It may take several days for the respondent to be served. You may not know precisely when it happens. Your abuser may become angry and retaliate after service. Be sure you and your family are protected. Some clients choose to leave home and hide in an undisclosed location during this period.

Filing Your Proof of Service

It’s very important that your proof of service form be completed and filed with the court. Whoever serves the DVRO will complete and sign the form. Talk to your server to be clear about who will file. The sheriff often files in Sacramento, but it’s up to you to be certain you know that’s done.

Be sure to get a copy of your proof of service and keep it with your DVRO. Bring your copy of proof of service – filed and stamped by the clerk – to court on the day of your hearing. Sometimes, even when proof of service has been filed, mistakes happen and the judge’s clerk may not have your filed proof of service. In these cases, if you cannot present your filed proof of service, your case will be continued (delayed) or, occasionally, dismissed.

When your DVRO is filed and served, and your proof of service is filed (and you have a copy), it’s time to prepare for court.

Read more about your hearing and court preparation here. [Colleen: link to next article on hearings and court prep.]

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Completing Your DVRO Forms

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Completing Your DVRO Forms

To learn what a DVRO is, and how to decide whether it is right for you, read this article first.

To learn more about the process of obtaining a DVRO, read this.

How to Begin

Once you have decided to file a DVRO, the first step is to complete the lengthy packet of required forms and submit them to the court.

If you have children in common with the abuser, you’ll need to get the packet Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (Step 1) for Parties with Common Minor Children (Sacramento County). If you do not have minor children in common, you’ll need Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (Step 1) for Parties Without Common Minor Children (Sacramento County). (If you live outside Sacramento County, California, check with your local family courts to obtain the correct forms.)

The packet of forms comes with comprehensive instructions. Read them carefully, and follow them exactly.

Gather all evidence you wish to submit with your DVRO. Evidence may include, but is not limited to:

  • Photos of injuries or property damage
  • Emergency Protective Orders from law enforcement
  • Arrest records or other documented law enforcement history
  • Hospital records
  • Witness statements
  • Letters of support from other agencies such as CPS

Telling Your Story: Incidents of Abuse

One of the most important and often most difficult aspects of the DVRO is writing about your abuse. The DVRO allows you to recount one to four incidents of abuse. In addition, there is a section for you to recount other abuse in the relationship – a “catch all” of your experiences that may not fit into one specific incident.

It’s important to organize your thoughts and write your experience in focused detail. You can write directly on the form, or add an attachment if you need more room. Your attachment can be typed or hand written.

Be specific, with as much clear detail as you can remember. “He hit me” is not as clear as, “He hit my left jaw with his fist and knocked me to the floor.”  Likewise, “She said” is not as clear as, “She yelled at me from less than a foot away.”

If you can recount specific things your abuser said to you, write them verbatim, in quotes. Don’t be afraid to use profanity if your abuser did.

Your story can be as long or short as it needs to be to convey your experience. If the incident needs to be put in context of long term abuse, include that context in the incident. For example, compare these stories:

On August 6, my husband, John Doe, got angry and threw our son’s toy against the wall and started yelling at me. I grabbed our son and went to my mother’s house.

How much did you learn about the victim’s story? How serious does the incident seem? Now, put it in context of past incidents:

In January and again in March, my husband, John Doe, became angry with our son and started throwing his toys into the wall. Both times, this seemed to make him angrier, and he turned on me and physically assaulted me, pushing me onto the floor and kicking me in the stomach and legs. Last Thursday, August 6th, I could feel him working up into the same anger. He started throwing our son’s toys and yelling and threatening me, so when he went into the kitchen, I picked up our son and went to my mother’s where I called the police.

In this instance, the victim left before physical violence occurred. If she just shares that her husband threw their son’s toys and yelled, and she fled to her mother’s, the judge is missing crucial information: throwing toys and yelling leads to physical violence in this family.

Put yourself in the judge’s shoes when you share your story. S/he knows nothing about you, your abuser or your situation. You must provide enough information to give the judge a clear picture of your experience without going off into unrelated information that will distract the judge without making your point.

One of the most evocative and poignant statements a client included in her DVRO was, “Every time I came home, I said a prayer before I put the key into the lock. I never knew what was on the other side of that door. So I just prayed he wouldn’t hurt me tonight.”

The ring of truth in that statement was palpable. It was her story. It fit clearly with the rest of her narrative. And it won her the protection of a fully granted DVRO.

Getting Help

Filling out a DVRO is time-consuming and can be very hard. The difficulty is heightened because of the stress you’re probably feeling.

If you have just been through a frightening incident of abuse, it can be hard to collect your thoughts. It’s traumatic to recount and relive your incidents of abuse. You may be conflicted about your relationship to your abuser, or frightened about how to care for yourself and your children if you leave. You may be afraid filing a DVRO will escalate the violence in your life. And it’s hard to make life-changing decisions when you are in trauma.

If you need help filling out your forms, you can make an appointment with the Legal Services Department at ACFP. We can assist and support you as you complete your forms, and guide you through the process of filing, serving, and court hearings.

The legal advocates at A Community For Peace are not attorneys. They can help you with the process of completing and filing your request for a DVRO, but cannot give you legal advice.

For additional help, email legal@acommunityforpeace.org or call (916) 728-5613

Read about filing and serving your DVRO. [Colleen: Link to next article on filing and serving.]

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: The PROCESS

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: The Process

A Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) can help protect you and your family while escaping from domestic violence. If you want to know more about what a DVRO is, and how to decide if it’s right for you, read this article first.

If you’ve decided a DVRO is right for you, it’s important to know the process and complete each of the following steps accurately and on time:

  • Fill out a DVRO packet – a package of several state and county forms – including custody and visitation forms if you and your abuser share children in common.
  • File your completed DVRO with your local family court.
  • Receive your temporary judge’s orders from the clerk, along with a date for your DVRO hearing. You must attend your hearing or your DVRO will be dismissed.
  • Have your DVRO served on the respondent (your abuser). Neither you nor anyone else listed as a protected person on the order can serve the respondent. You can ask local law enforcement to serve (a free service from the Sacramento County Sheriff), hire a process server, or, if you feel sure it will be safe, have someone known to the respondent serve the paperwork. Service must be done in person.
  • Complete the proof of service form, have your server sign it, and file it with the court. Also bring a copy of your proof of service to your hearing. If the court doesn’t have your proof of service, the case will be continued (delayed) or, occasionally, dismissed.
  • The respondent has the opportunity to submit a formal response to the court. You must be served with this response, but service can be done by mail. You may not receive and be able to view the response before your hearing. If not, you may ask for a copy and the time to review it during your hearing.
  • Attend your hearing. If you have children in common, the judge will make orders regarding your DVRO and most likely send you to mediation to discuss child custody and visitation.
  • Attend your mediation session, where you will speak to a mediator about child custody and visitation planning. Before the session you must complete a parenting plan questionnaire and (in Sacramento) an online mediation orientation course. (Check with your local court for requirements where you are.)
  • Return to court for a final hearing, where the judge will consider the mediator’s recommendation on custody and visitation, as well as any further information or evidence you wish to share regarding your DVRO. Then the judge will make a final determination about both your DVRO and custody/visitation. If you do not have children in common, your case will most likely be completed during your initial hearing, with no need for mediation.

The following links offer a more detailed explanation of each step in the DVRO process:

The process of filing a DVRO can be challenging. If you’ve been through domestic violence, you may already feel vulnerable and afraid. It can feel daunting to face each step and confusing to know what is expected of you. The support of a legal advocate can help you navigate this difficult process.

ACFP advocates are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice.

ACFP does offer comprehensive legal advocacy services to help you move through each stage of the DVRO process. Additionally, our counselors can help you make a safety plan to help protect you and your family during the DVRO process. Our advocates can:

  • Assist you with filling out your DVRO paperwork.
  • Give you instructions for filing and serving your DVRO.
  • Review your orders and help you prepare for your court hearing.
  • Accompany you to court as a support person.
  • Help you prepare for child custody/visitation mediation.
  • Offer court preparation for your post-mediation hearing.
  • Help with safety planning, relocation, domestic violence peer counseling, or other issues related to your history of abuse. You can also attend group peer counseling and parenting classes, and bring your children to “For Kids’ Sake”, our trauma-informed, therapeutic “play care”, to help you and your children heal and recover from your experiences.

CASE STUDY

“Lisa” came to ACFP after fleeing domestic abuse by her husband. Lisa was shocked and traumatized by her husband’s behavior. She also learned that he had a history of abuse in a previous marriage, including child abuse.

It took some time for Lisa to feel ready to file a DVRO, but the realization that her husband had a history of documented child abuse in his previous marriage made her see that she and her children needed protection.

Our advocates helped her prepare a DVRO for herself and her two children. They instructed her how to file and serve the orders. Our advocates helped Lisa clarify what she wanted from the court, and helped her prepare for her hearing. An advocate accompanied Lisa to court as a support person and stayed with her throughout the hearing.

Lisa’s first hearing was a disappointment and she was terrified and upset afterward. She felt the judge didn’t understand that her children were in danger. Her husband had a lawyer, and Lisa felt he misrepresented their relationship and minimized his behavior. He led the judge to think this was just an argument between a couple and not a case of true domestic violence. The judge sent them to mediation to make a parenting plan, and granted visitation to the father until the final hearing.

ACFP advocates helped Lisa to understand her obligations and rights under the court order. They helped her make a safety plan for the visitation times, and helped her strategize custody exchanges and how to avoid contact with her husband, who was trying to persuade her to come home.

They then worked with Lisa to prepare a parenting plan, complete an online mediation orientation and gather new evidence to support her claims. She was able to show the mediator enough new information that the mediator recommended full custody to Lisa, with only short, supervised visits to the father.

At Lisa’s final hearing, the judge took this new evidence into consideration, and followed the mediator’s recommendations, granting full legal and physical custody and a three-year DVRO to Lisa. He also limited the father to short supervised visits only.

Lisa and her children have now left the area, and she has filed for a divorce. She and her children are receiving counseling to begin to heal from their experiences.

As a holistic, trauma-informed crisis center, ACFP can support clients through the legal, emotional, and logistical aspects of the DVRO process.

Written by Colette R., A Community For Peace – Legal Advocate