Acts of domestic violence can take many different forms and unfortunately affect millions of people nationwide. While women represent the majority of victims, men can also be the victims of domestic abuse. In the state of North Carolina, allegations of domestic violence are taken very seriously. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, the attorneys at Hatcher Law Group can help. We are highly experienced in the laws associated with domestic violence and are compassionate advocates for our clients.
Elements of Domestic Violence and the 50B Protective Order
The alarming statistics surrounding domestic violence have not gone unnoticed by the North Carolina Legislature and thus our courts have developed a mechanism for helping victims of domestic violence. This mechanism is a civil protective order formally known as the 50B Domestic Violence Protective Order (also called a “50B,” “DVPO,” “protective order, or “restraining order”).
In many domestic violence situations, you can obtain the 50B Order through an emergency hearing if you can show that the abuser attempted to cause you bodily injury, intentionally caused bodily injury or placed you and/or your children in fear of imminent serious bodily injury by the threat of force. Typically the order will provide that your abuser must stay away from you and/or your children and may provide other remedies, such as providing you with temporary custody of your children or granting you possession of the residence you shared with the abuser.
If an abuser violates the protective order once it is entered, he or she can be arrested.
Any order entered pursuant to Chapter 50B will be for a fixed period of time not to exceed one year. The court may renew a protective order for up to one year if the aggrieved party files a motion for renewal before the expiration date of the one year order.
For purposes of obtaining a 50B Protective Order, domestic violence is defined as:
One or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party:
- Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury; or
- Placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party’s family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
- Committing any act defined in G.S. 14-27.2 through G.S. 14-27.7 N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(a).
You are eligible to obtain a 50B Protective Order against an abuser if you and/or your children have suffered acts of domestic violence from an abuser with whom you have a personal relationship, which means you and the alleged abuser are:
- Current or former spouses;
- Persons of the opposite sex who live together or have lived together;
- Related as parents and children or as grandparents and grandchildren unless the child or grandchild is under the age of 16;
- Persons who have a child in common;
- Current or former household members (this point can be utilized to help individuals in a same-sex relationship, who are not married, but who are victims of domestic violence, obtain a 50B Order); or
- Persons of the opposite sex who are or have been in a dating relationship
If granted, the 50B Order directs the abuser to stay away from and to not assault, threaten, or harass the victim and the victim’s children. It can also give many other types of emergency assistance, including:
- Grant a party possession of the residence or household of the parties and exclude the other party from the residence or household;
- Require a party to provide a spouse and his or her children suitable alternate housing;
- Award temporary custody of minor children and establish a temporary safe visitation plan;
- Order the eviction of a party from the residence and order assistance to the victim returning to the home;
- Order either party to make child support payments;
- Order either party to make spousal support payments;
- Provide for possession of personal property of the parties;
- Order a party to refrain from doing any or all of the following:
- Threatening, abusing, or following the other party;
- Harassing the other party, including by telephone, visiting the home or workplace, or other means; or
- Interfering with the other party;
- Order the batterer to stay away from the victim’s school and places where the children live or go to daycare or school;
- Award either party court costs and attorney’s fees;
- Order the defendant* not to possess or purchase any firearms;
- Order any party the court finds is responsible for acts of domestic violence to attend and complete an abuser treatment program; or
- Include any additional prohibitions or requirements the court deems necessary to protect any party or any minor child. N.C.G.S. §50B-3(a).
*The terms “defendant” and “abuser” are used interchangeably throughout this page.
There is a standard process throughout North Carolina for initiating the 50B complaint against your abuser. If you are unable to hire an attorney to represent you, you may consider seeking assistance from Safe Alliance, a nonprofit organization offering assistance to victims of domestic violence. Another option is to prepare and file the paperwork yourself. The forms needed are all available on the North Carolina Court System’s website: “Instructions for Domestic Violence Forms”.
Once you have filed your 50B complaint, you may have an emergency ex parte hearing (without the defendant present) in the Domestic Violence Civil Court within 72 hours. Usually, though, you can go before a judge the same day you file if you file before 12:00 p.m. If it is past regular business hours, you can go to the magistrate’s office, who can issue a temporary Ex Parte 50B Order. Often the magistrate will issue a warrant at the same time for the abuser’s arrest if the allegations in your complaint constitute a crime.
At the ex parte hearing, you will describe to the judge exactly what the abuser has done to physically harm you and/or your children; and/or what threats of bodily injury he or she made to you and/or your children. Explain to the judge why you fear for your safety or the safety of your children. When you are speaking to the judge, be direct and to the point – focus on the problems with your abuser. If you have children, you may request temporary custody. You may also ask the judge to have the sheriff pick your children up if they are with the abuser or the abuser’s family. At the end of your hearing, the judge will decide whether you have presented sufficient evidence, and, if so, an Ex Parte 50B Order will be issued, which lasts for ten days. The judge will also schedule a full hearing ten days from the entry of the ex parte order (“10-day” Hearing), where the defendant (and perhaps his or her attorney) will be present.
At the “10-day” Hearing, the judge will decide whether to issue a 50B Order for up to one year. The judge will ask you to explain why you think you and/or your children are in danger of domestic violence. Just like in your ex parte hearing, you will need to be as specific and clear as possible and stay focused on the issues related to your abuse. At this time, you may want to present any evidence that will support your allegations of abuse. For example, you may want to bring any damaged clothing; photos of broken furniture or objects; photos of your physical injuries; medical records; police reports (you can subpoena, or legally require, the police officer to appear in court and explain his or her report); 911 tapes/transcripts; text messages or call logs; and records of work missed as a result of the abuse. If you have children, you likely will discuss what type of visitation arrangement you want for your children and the abuser. You or your attorney can also ask any witnesses to explain what they know about the domestic violence committed against you and/or your children.
After your evidence is presented, the defendant or his or her attorney may try to dismiss your 50B case, stating that you have not proven enough to support your claim. Do not panic – this is a normal motion for an attorney to make. It is unlikely the judge will dismiss your case at this point if you have presented sufficient evidence. If the defendant’s motion is denied, the defendant and his or her witnesses, if any, will present their case just as you did previously. After the defendant and each of his or her witnesses testify, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine them. The judge may also ask the defendant and his or her witnesses some questions, just as that judge has the opportunity to ask you questions while you present your evidence. After the defendant’s case has been presented, the judge may ask you or your attorney to give a brief closing argument where either of you will relay to the judge that you have proven the act(s) of domestic violence with your evidence.
Temporary Custody and Visitation
With your 50B Order, you can request temporary custody of your children. The Complaint and Motion for Domestic Violence Protective Order form allows you to request that the court award you temporary custody of your children if the abuser is the other parent of your children. If granted, the court will attach a temporary custody addendum to the protective order detailing its mandate regarding custody.
You may ask the court to consider the following in its temporary custody decision:
- Supervised visitation (where some responsible adult or agency supervises during the visitation time between the children and the other parent);
- Third-party exchange (where you choose a person who will be available to facilitate the exchange. For example, you drop the children off with the third party 15 minutes before the other parent is scheduled to arrive for his or her visitation);
- Safe-place exchange (where you and the other parent meet in a safe place to exchange the children, usually the police department); or
- Therapeutic visitation (where the children and the other parent see each other only in therapy together).
Your 50B Order will be valid throughout North Carolina and the United States. Always keep a copy with you and extras at your place of employment, in your car, and with your friends. If the order covers your children, you may need to provide a copy to their school, care providers, etc. If you move to a new city, it is a good idea to take a copy to your local police department to make sure it is registered with them. Generally, the Domestic Violence Protective Order is a means of deterrence but it is not a force field that magically keeps your abuser from you. You may want to keep an updated safety plan just in case you are confronted by your abuser in the future, and you should always be aware of your surroundings to avoid confrontations.
What if the Abuser Violates the 50B Order?
If the abuser violates the order, it is a Class A1 Misdemeanor in North Carolina and you should call 911 immediately, preferably while the violation is happening. The police must respond under the law and should arrest the defendant for violating the order.
It is important to cooperate with the district attorneys before any hearing. In addition, you may want to discuss your case with a Safe Alliance victim’s assistance counselor as soon as possible and/or seek help from local support groups or agencies.
Who Needs an Attorney
Although you do not need an attorney to proceed with your Motion for a 50B Domestic Violence Protective Order, it may prove beneficial to have an experienced attorney who has represented other victims going through the same or similar situation as you. Court can be intimidating, particularly when you are faced with the daunting reality of confronting your abuser. You may become nervous or scared and a qualified attorney can often help calm your fears and put your mind at ease. You should also remember that should you decide to hire an attorney, he or she can request reimbursement of attorney’s fees from the abuser in your court case. Whether you receive such an award is in the sole discretion of the judge.
If the following circumstances arise in your case, it is recommended that you consider hiring an attorney:
- The abuser appears in court with an attorney (If this happens you may want to ask the judge to postpone your hearing by asking for a “continuance,” and to extend your emergency Ex Parte 50B Order until the new hearing so you can hire an attorney or attempt to obtain one through Safe Alliance);
- Where the evidence is complex (i.e., using medical records or statements in medical records);
- Where testimony of a doctor or other expert physician is required;
- Where the last incident(s) of physical abuse were over a year ago;
- Where the only, or only recent, incident of domestic violence was a threat;
- Where you cannot speak well for yourself, perhaps just because you have been so intimidated from the abuse or English is not your first language; or
- Where there are issues regarding child sexual abuse.
Civil No-Contact Orders (50C)
Chapter 50C of the North Carolina General Statutes was enacted to expand protections for victims who do not meet the personal relationship requirement of Chapter 50B. You may seek a 50C order if you, or your child, are the victim of “unlawful conduct” occurring in North Carolina.
“Unlawful conduct” is defined under the statute as the commission of one or more of the following acts upon a person, but does not include acts of self-defense or defense of others:
- Nonconsensual sexual conduct, including single incidents of nonconsensual sexual conduct.
- Stalking, defined as following on more than one occasion or otherwise harassing, as defined in G.S. 14-277.3(c), another person without legal purpose with the intent to do any of the following:
- Place the person in reasonable fear either for the person’s safety or the safety of the person’s immediate family or close personal associates.
- Cause that person to suffer substantial emotional distress by placing that person in fear of death, bodily injury, or continued harassment and that in fact causes that person substantial emotional distress.
A civil no-contact order may grant one or more of the following forms of relief:
- Order the respondent not to visit, assault, molest, or otherwise interfere with the victim.
- Order the respondent to cease stalking the victim, including at the victim’s workplace.
- Order the respondent to cease harassment of the victim.
- Order the respondent not to abuse or injure the victim.
- Order the respondent not to contact the victim by telephone, written communication, or electronic means.
- Order the respondent to refrain from entering or remaining present at the victim’s residence, school, place of employment, or other specified places at times when the victim is present.
- Order other relief deemed necessary and appropriate by the court, including assessing attorney’s fees to either party.
Similar to 50B Orders, 50C Orders can be temporary or permanent in nature. If granted, a temporary 50C civil no-contact order will be effective for not more than ten days unless the court finds good cause to extend the temporary order beyond that time. A permanent civil no-contact order will be effective for a fixed period of time not to exceed one year. A knowing violation of a 50C no-contact order is punishable as contempt of court.
Getting Help from Support Groups
If you have been in an abusive relationship, it is a good idea to consider counseling for yourself and/or your children. For women in the Charlotte area who are victims of domestic violence, the Charlotte Domestic Violence Shelter, the Mecklenburg County Women’s Commission, and Safe Alliance are excellent resources. Overall, Safe Alliance may be able to assist all persons involved in the abusive relationship, including the children. For the abuser, counseling is also available through a batterer intervention program in Mecklenburg County known as NOVA (New Options for Violent Actions).
Experienced Domestic Violence Attorneys
While bringing a case for a Domestic Violence Protective Order is never easy and can be emotionally difficult, you do not have to do it alone. The attorneys at Hatcher Law Group can help. If you are ready to leave an abusive relationship and need assistance obtaining a protective order, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys.