October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly one-third of women, and twenty-five percent of men, have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner over the course of their lives. Furthermore, according to the Office of the Attorney General, South Carolina currently ranks fifth in the nation for the number of homicides caused by domestic violence. If you or someone you love has been the victim of domestic violence, the following are some helpful tips for obtaining legal protection in South Carolina.

Order of Protection Versus Restraining Order

In South Carolina, there are two (2) types of protective orders that may be available: an Order of Protection or a Restraining Order. If you are seeking to prevent a member of your household from having contact with you, then an Order of Protection is the applicable remedy. Members of your household can include a spouse, former spouse, the mother or father of your child, or a dating partner with whom you live or used to live.

Alternatively, restraining orders are applicable if you are being harassed or stalked by someone. To obtain a restraining order, you do not need to have a specific relationship with the person who is stalking or harassing you, as required for an Order of Protection. If a restraining order is granted, the Magistrate can order the defendant not to abuse or threaten you or your family members, enter or attempt to enter your home, workplace, school, or other location, and/or communicate or attempt to communicate with you. A family law attorney can assist you in differentiating between these two options and deciding which may be the appropriate option for protection in your particular case.

Filing an Order of Protection

Victims of abuse can file for an Order of Protection in a Family Court in the county where the abuse occurred, the county where the alleged abuser resides, the county where the alleged victim resides, or the county where the parties last resided together. There are official forms that must be filed with the Clerk of Court to set out the basis for your request for protection. A hearing date will be set for the Court to take evidence as to your request for the Order of Protection. If there is an emergency, a hearing can often be heard on an expedited basis, which is usually within 24 hours of filing and service on the accused abuser. At the hearing, for which the alleged abuser receives notice and is given the opportunity to be present, the party requesting the Order of Protection has the burden of proving that the household member from whom you are seeking protection committed physical harm, bodily injury, or threatened or attempted to cause physical harm or injury.

If the Judge does grant an Order of Protection, the Order of Protection will typically last for at least 6 months, but not longer than a year. The Order of Protection can grant relief such as ordering the defendant to not abuse, threaten or communicate with you; to not enter or attempt to enter the victim’s home, workplace, school or other location; addressing and awarding temporary custody of any minor children in common; granting temporary financial support; ordering temporary exclusive possession of the parties’ residence; and possibly addressing personal property issues.

Your Safety

Once domestic violence has occurred; the physical and emotional safety of the victim is of the utmost importance. If you or your loved one is in a situation where protection is needed, here are some safety tips to consider:

  1. Find a safe place to go, such as a family member or friend’s home. If you must remain in your own home, be aware of the safe rooms and areas in your home, such as rooms with locks on the doors or rooms with a window where you can escape if needed.
  2. Be prepared for an emergency escape. Consider having a back-up phone, such as a “pay as you go” cell phone, in case you are unable to get to your own phone. You may also consider keeping an emergency bag packed with extra clothes for you and your children, some cash, and a key to your car.
  3. Change your user names and passwords to bank accounts, credit card accounts, social media accounts, etc., which may be used to track your whereabouts or access your personal information.
  4. Know about resources in your community. South Carolina’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVSA) provides shelter for victims of domestic violence and resource information (803-256-2900). The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be called at 1-800-799-7233 and is available 24 hours a day.

Engaging the services of a family law attorney is important in matters of such a serious nature. Ensuring the safety and well-being of you and your family members is of the utmost priority. The process can be difficult and daunting to maneuver on your own. If you have any questions about how we can assist you so that you can begin to feel safe again, please do not hesitate to contact Sodoma Law York at 803-366-0001.

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