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Domestic Violence During Coronavirus (COVID-19): Know Your Options

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The coronavirus strain known as COVID-19 has impacted our relationships, our marriages and domestic partnerships, our children, our livelihoods, and our health. It also limits our movement, which may exacerbate incidents of domestic violence. 

If you are in danger right now, call 911. Even in areas under a shelter-in-place order, police are responding to emergency calls. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence in California during COVID-19, you may feel like your options are limited. Please know help is available. This post will first explain what domestic violence is and who can be impacted by domestic violence. We will then

explore resources that are available and explain how restraining orders are currently working during the coronavirus. 

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Domestic Violence Defined

It is important to remember that domestic violence is not just physical abuse and is not solely between partners. Domestic abuse can be between individuals who are or used to be in an intimate relationship (married, domestic partners, dating, living together, have a child together) or who are related by blood or marriage.

In California, domestic abuse is defined as:

  • Physically hurting or trying to hurt someone, intentionally or recklessly;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Making someone reasonably afraid that they or someone else are about to be seriously hurt (like threats or promises to harm someone); OR
  • Behavior like harassing, stalking, threatening, or hitting someone; disturbing someone’s peace; or destroying someone’s personal property.

Psychological or emotional abuse is abuse, and this may be worsened in the stress of sheltering-in-place. As the New York Times explained in a special piece on domestic violence during the global pandemic, common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behavior; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities.

In California, there remain many available options and resources, though some are operating in a more limited capacity. We will explore those next. 

Domestic Violence Resources During Coronavirus

The coronavirus tends to make us all feel helpless. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, an important first step is recognizing your available options. 

  • Practice safe surfing. Using someone else’s computer or phone for research and outreach may be unavailable, but there are still steps you can take to delete your browser history and cookies. This resource details how to delete search and browser history and cookies on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. 
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline. This national resource is still available around the clock. They provide support online at thehotline.org or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by texting LOVEIS to 22522. 
  • Local California resources. Many of these programs are still open and available, even if they have reduced their hours or services. 
  • Local programs for Native American families. To find local resources for Native American families, visit this page and select “stateside” or your specific county under the “service area” drop-down menu and then “domestic violence” under the “service type” drop-down menu.
  • California court resources on filing for a restraining order. This page walks you through the standard process for filing for a restraining order. It has not been updated to reflect the changes courts are making to respond to COVID-19, but it gives you a general overview. 
  • Personal advice and support. You do not have to navigate this process alone. Family law facilitators may be available by phone or online through your county court system; and some self-help centers may be providing remote services. Experienced attorneys are available to guide you through this process with respect and understanding. 
  • Restraining orders. If you need protection from abuse or threats of abuse from someone you have a close relationship with, you may be able to ask for a restraining order. You can also request a restraining order on behalf of your child, and children who are 12 or older, can file for a restraining order on their own.

We will take a closer look at the reality surrounding restraining orders in California during COVID-19. Please remember that California courts are updating their response to COVID-19 regularly. We will update this page as new decisions are made.

Restraining Orders During COVID-19

In normal times, a restraining order helps prevent the restrained person from contacting or going near you, your children, other relatives, or others who live with you. It can also require the restrained person to:

  • Stay away from your home, work, or your children’s schools;
  • Move out of your house (even if you live together);
  • Not have a gun;
  • Follow child custody and visitation orders;
  • Pay child support;
  • Pay spousal or partner support (if you are married or domestic partners);
  • Stay away from any of your pets;
  • Complete a 52-week batterer intervention program;
  • and several other requirements. 

There are several types of restraining orders available through the family court system:

  • Emergency Protective Orders (EPO): These are issued by a judge, last 7 days, and are typically available to be issued around the clock. These allow the protected person to ask the court for a Temporary Restraining Order by filing paperwork.
  • Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): These are issued through the courts, usually last 20-25 days, and are typically issued when you file your paperwork. These allow the protected person to ask the court for a “Permanent” Restraining Order at a court hearing.
  • “Permanent” Restraining Order: These are issued at a court hearing and usually last up to 5 years (not forever). At the end of the order, the protected person can ask for a new restraining order. 

The California court system has stayed (extended) the hearing dates for most types of cases. However, police departments can still issue Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs) and you can still file for restraining orders (Temporary and “Permanent”) under the court’s emergency rules

If you have a restraining order that is ending soon, the courts must extend Temporary and “Permanent” orders up to 90 days and EPOs up to 30 days. If you have already filed for protection, your court may have already extended your order. You can check your cases’s status online using this resource (select your county from the left-hand column). More information on the court’s response to COVID-19 in California is available here

To sum up:

  • You can still file for all three kinds of restraining orders: Emergency, Temporary, and “Permanent.”
  • If you have a current restraining order, that may be extended automatically. Double-check online
  • If you need help, resources are available. Call 911 for emergency situations, browse safely, and contact a trusted advisor for support.

As always, we encourage you to follow the CDC’s recommendations to protect your health, abide by the shelter-in-place mandate to the best of your ability, and take care of yourself. If you need support and guidance, seek the advice of a trusted and experienced attorney

At Van Voorhis & Sosna, we know COVID-19 is a challenging time. We are prepared to help you navigate these questions and offer legal advice and representation based on integrity, trust, and understanding. Contact us today, or call 415.274.2530 to schedule a free legal consultation.

The content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information, and you should contact an attorney to obtain advice regarding your particular issues or problems. Use of and access to this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between Van Voorhis & Sosna and the reader. 

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