Domestic Violence Victims and Paying for an Attorney
Hypothetical: Jane has been in a rough relationship with John for several years. Arguments often lead to yelling and cursing, and occasionally things become violent. One night, John gets especially angry and hits Jane several times. Jane calls the police. John is arrested and the police assist Jane in obtaining an Order of Protection. Jane’s court date is fast approaching and John is out on bail. Jane doesn’t want to go home, so she is staying with a friend. She is frightened of going to court, seeing John, and reliving the horrible event. Jane doesn’t know what to do, what may happen after court, or who to turn to for help.
Orders of Protection are created by statute in Tennessee (T.C.A. §36-3-601 et. al.). These orders can be filed at the County Court Clerk’s office. The Tennessee Supreme Court provides approved forms available here.
When an Order of Protection is initially filed, an Ex-Parte Order will be issued for good cause. Once the Ex-Parte Order is served on the accused, the accused is not to come in contact with the victim in any way or the accused could be charged with criminal contempt. A court date is set within 15 days of the Ex-Parte Order. During the hearing, the victim must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the allegations made against the alleged abuser are, in fact, true.
Under the statute, the parties must have been current or former spouses, roommates, been in a dating relationship, related by blood, adoption, or marriage. Additionally, the type of abuse that could lead to the issuance of an Order of Protection are as follows:
- physical abuse, fear of physical abuse
- malicious damage to personal property including harming or threatening harm to a pet
- sexual assault
If the victim proves their case, an Order of Protection will be issued for one year. Having an attorney is not required to gain an Order of Protection. Bear in mind though that the rules of procedure and evidence apply at all hearings. Thus, having an attorney is advantageous, as they help victims navigate the legal requirements and serve as an advocate on the victims’ behalf.
Victims need to be aware that the law in Tennessee provides that all court costs, filing fees, litigation taxes and attorney fees associated with the order of protection will be assessed to their abuser (the respondent) if the Order of Protection is issued. T.C.A. §36-3-617