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:
- Dress in an appropriate, professional manner. Don’t wear sleeveless or low-cut tops, flip flops, hats, shorts or jeans. Look respectful and professional.
- 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.
- Do not chew gum in court.
- Turn off your mobile phone before entering the courtroom. You will be removed from court if your phone makes any noise.
- Speak respectfully to the judge and call him/her, “Your Honor.”
- 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call for an appointment at (916) 728-5613