Defending a DVPO
Woohoo, a legal blog! Who would've guessed by that not-boring-at-all title, right? Let's get to it! Domestic violence protection orders (“DVPOs”) are a common mechanism intended for victims of domestic violence to obtain court orders that will prohibit the perpetrator from contact with them or their children. They are obtained through the family court when a petitioner presents sufficient facts to establish that, if the facts presented are true, an act of domestic violence against the petitioner by the respondent has occurred at some point in time, and the petitioner remains in reasonable fear of the respondent. A parent may petition on behalf of a minor child. A temporary order may be granted without notice to the respondent, as long as a full hearing on the DVPO is set within 14 days to give the respondent a chance to respond.
These cases are a somewhat unique animal in the family courts. Whereas most family law issues are decided by either a formal trial with live witnesses, or - in the case of a temporary order hearing - solely by written documentation, DVPOs are a hybrid, allowing both written declarations from witnesses as well as live witness testimony. The rules of evidence do not formally apply, which means lots of hearsay and other unauthenticated documents may be considered as compared to other family law proceedings. This process is designed to allow the judge to consider as much relevant information as possible, while providing quick and streamlined relief for victims of domestic violence.
In practice, however, this streamlined DVPO process presents enormous challenges for the a person being accused of domestic violence. The allegations are often vague and span the entirety of a long, romantic relationship. Domestic violence allegations by their nature often involve private moments behind closed doors, and proving something didn’t happen (“proving a negative”) can be really tough. The burden of proof is low: “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning if the judicial offer believes it is slightly more likely than not that the allegations are true, he or she must grant the DVPO. That means that uncorroborated “he said/she said” cases, which very rarely succeed in criminal court where the burden of proof is higher, often result in the issuance of DVPOs.
The direct consequence of a DVPO to a respondent is, most typically, that they may not have contact with the petitioner or come near his or her residence. But this is usually the least of respondent’s worries. The collateral consequences of a DVPO are massive. DVPOs, involving as they do a judicial finding that a respondent has committed an act of domestic violence, affect job hiring, housing, firearm rights, military careers, child custody disputes, and professional licensing. If you have been served with a petition for a DVPO, you will want to consult with an attorney right away to see what options you may have for resolution.