The Protection Hearing
Authored By: Legal Services Alabama
This article tells you what to expect at your protection hearing. It also tells you how to get ready for the hearing.
What time should I be in Court?
- You have to be in court no later than the time on your notice.
- It is usually a good idea to be there at least fifteen minutes early.
- This gives you a last chance to find parking and find the right courtroom. It also gives you time to go over everything with your lawyer or shelter advocate to get ready.
- There may be other cases set that day at about the same time. Yours may not be called right away. You need to be ready whenever your case is called.
- Remember the whole time you are at the courthouse, someone from the judge's staff may be watching you and noticing how you behave. It is important that you be calm and dignified at all times.
How should I dress?
- Wear a conservative dress or nice pants, something dressy but comfortable.
- Never wear short skirts or low cut blouses to court.
- Do not wear a lot of makeup or jewelry.
- Dress like you are going to church or to a job interview or to visit your grandmother.
Should I bring the children?
- No. You need to be able to concentrate on the hearing.
- The children would be a distraction for you. Find someone to keep them. The court does not provide child care.
- Even in a custody hearing, children usually do not testify.
- Be sure to talk to your lawyer or advocate beforehand if you think you want one or more of your children to come to court.
What about witnesses?
- Many victims do not have any witnesses. This is okay. Most people do not abuse their partners in front of witnesses. You can prove the abuse by your testimony.
- If you have any witness to physical abuse, bring that person.
- If you think your abuser will ask for custody, bring a witness or two who knows you and your children and can say that you are a good parent.
- In any case, it is a good idea to bring a friend or family member to court for support. Your lawyer might have more than one case that day and cannot be with you the whole time.
- If you do not have anyone to come to court with you, you can try to make arrangements for someone from the shelter to come.
Will I see my abuser?
- Your abuser probably will be in court. They have a right to come to court, if they want to.
- Your abuser could be waiting for court in the same general area as you will be waiting.
- If you are uncomfortable with this, please let your lawyer know. You or your lawyer may be able to arrange for you to wait in another part of the courthouse.
Will I have to talk to my abuser?
- No, you do not have to talk to your abuser.
- If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will handle things for you in court.
- It is better that you do not talk to your abuser, even if your abuser asks to speak with you.
- Everyone is nervous and emotional. Talking with your abuser will only make it worse.
Will I have to testify in court?
- You will have to testify if you do not have a lawyer. Even if you have a lawyer, you probably will still need to tell the judge why you need protection.
- Before the judge calls the case, your lawyer may talk to your abuser, or your abuser's lawyer if he has one, to try and reach an agreement.
- If this looks possible, your lawyer will move back and forth between you and your abuser. All the time, your lawyer will let you know what your abuser is willing to agree to. This way, you can see if you can reach a compromise.
- Your lawyer will not pressure you into any agreement. It is up to you to decide whether to settle. If you do settle, your lawyer will let the judge know about the settlement.
- Everyone is nervous about testifying. It might help to practice with friends before the hearing. Tell them the facts that have led you to seek a protection order.
What do I say if I do have to testify?
- If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will stand or sit next to you.
- Your lawyer will ask you questions.
- You'll have time to go over the questions before going into court.
- Your lawyer will ask you about your relationship with your abuser, the names and ages of your children, a brief history of the abuse, and what you want the judge to do.
- Look at the judge when you are speaking. Speak loudly enough to be heard. If you don't understand, just say so. Your lawyer will then ask the question differently.
- If your lawyer leaves anything important out, whisper it to your lawyer. Your lawyer will then add that.
- If your abuser has a lawyer, his lawyer will probably ask you questions.
- If your abuser does not have a lawyer, he can ask you questions himself.
- Listen carefully. Make sure you understand the questions. Take your time in answering. Keep your answers short. Answer "yes" or "no" if you can. Your lawyer will be able to ask you questions that give you a chance to explain, if necessary.
- If you realize later that you answered a question wrong, you can go back and correct your answer.
- NEVER argue with or get mad at your abuser or your abuser's lawyer, even if they argue with you or appear to get angry with you. Remain calm.
- Answer all questions truthfully and completely.
- After you testify you can call your witnesses. Next, your abuser will testify and then your lawyer asks your abuser questions.
- NEVER respond in any way to anything your abuser says. That means do not talk, laugh, shake your head or make a face. Your abuser probably will say things that are not true and that upset you. Remain calm. You can testify again and clear up anything your abuser says wrong.
- The judge will be watching both of you the whole time to see how you behave. If your abuser acts like a fool, do not act like a fool yourself.
How is child support determined?
- The judge follows specific guidelines to determine the amount of child support.
- These are based on the total of both parent's gross income, child support actually being paid under any previous court order, medical insurance premiums for your children, and child care costs.
- If you know how much money the other parent makes, you can do a rough calculation on this.
- Usually the final figuring is done at the court house at the hearing.
What about visitation?
- Please read about visitation in Getting and Keeping Custody of Your Children.
- Expect that the other parent will get visitation rights.
- Your lawyer will do everything possible to help keep you and the children safe.
What about my furniture and other personal property?
- Bring a list with you of things he has that you want.
- If your abuser will not agree to get to you the things that you need, you can ask the judge to decide this part of the case.
When will I find out what the judge's ruling is?
- Most of the time the judge does not tell us in court what his decision is.
- Usually the judge will simply say that he/she will consider the evidence and get a ruling out later.
- The judge will get a copy of the order to you. If you have a lawyer, the judge sends it to your lawyer. The lawyer then sends it to you.
- Your abuser will also get a copy.
Do you have any other questions about the hearing? ASK!!!!! It is important that you understand what you are doing, and that you feel comfortable about all of it! Your shelter worker and your lawyer can help make you comfortable.
Reviewed May 2012
AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. We try hard to make sure this website accurately explains your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For this sort of legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online at intake.alsp.org.