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While Domestic Violence and Abuse Increase During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Legal Remedies Remain

By Daniel J. Williams: Very few would question the necessity of social distancing and the implementation of “stay-at-home” orders in light of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, these practices may be having unintended consequences for many families and households throughout the country and beyond. Recent data has indicated a surge in reported incidents of domestic violence[1], as well as a significant drop in the reporting of child abuse and neglect.[2]

In households where domestic abuse was already present, victims now find themselves confined to their homes with their abuser virtually around the clock. In other instances where domestic abuse was not an issue, the added stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic (loss of employment, financial instability, increased substance abuse, etc.) may be leading to more isolated incidents of domestic violence when emotions and frustrations reach a boiling point. It’s also possible that this charged environment could lead to more false or exaggerated claims of domestic violence where a family or household member is seeking to gain the upper hand or have another member of the household removed.

Regardless of the situation, legal intervention is often required to remedy the situation. While many courts have had to tailor their dockets in light of the pandemic, most understand that domestic violence has not taken a backseat during this time and remain open to provide relief to victims of abuse.  In cases of emergency, a call to police should be the first step anyone takes. If a criminal charge is filed, a court has the authority to implement a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) that will last for the duration of any criminal proceedings and place limitations on the abuser, including removal from the household.

If immediate police presence is not required (or where a police presence could exacerbate the situation), a victim of abuse may also petition the Domestic Relations Court in the county of their residence for a Civil Protection Order (CPO). An underlying criminal charge is not necessary to file for a CPO, and permits the victim to get a hearing outside the presence of the abuser to seek immediate relief. If a judge or magistrate finds that a petitioner is in danger, an emergency order can be issued to remove the abuser from the household. This emergency order will remain in effect until a full hearing is held. At the full hearing the petitioner must demonstrate to the court the merits of their claim, and the other party is provided the opportunity to dispute the claim and offer evidence of their own.

If the judge or magistrate finds that the petitioner has satisfied their burden of showing that they have been the victim of abuse, and that a permanent order is required for their continued safety, a CPO may be put in place for up to five years. The order can include requirements that:

  • Order the respondent to refrain from abusing the petitioner;
  • Evict the respondent and grant exclusive use of the residence to the petitioner;
  • Prohibit the respondent from entering the residence, workplace, or school or the petitioner or any other protected party;
  • Allocate parental rights to the petitioner, including a child support order; and
  • Prohibit the respondent from owning or possession firearms

The path to removing oneself from an abusive environment is a difficult one, and can include many emotional and legal hurdles. It is not a path that someone should have to deal with on their own. Conversely, someone accused of an act of domestic violence that they did not commit can see many of their civil liberties stripped while they await their day in court. The attorneys at Dworken & Bernstein are understanding of the difficulties that both sides are facing in this time of crisis, and are experienced and vigilant in representing both victims of abuse as well as those accused of domestic violence.

[1] https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/cleveland-metro/covid-19-stay-at-home-orders-may-put-domestic-violence-and-child-abuse-victims-at-risk; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/for-domestic-violence-victims-stay-at-home-orders-do-not-offer-safety/; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html

[2] https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/media/news-and-media/continuing-to-stay-home-correction-officer-death-ppe-sterilization-child-abuse-reports-proposed-1.6-billion-dividend-for-employers

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