You have two choices if you want to take legal action: civil or criminal. You may use one or both at the same time.
Alabama's Family Violence Act helps victims of family violence get a Family Violence Protection Order. The order is usually good for a year.
You do not pay to file a Petition for a Family Violence Protection Order. You can get help from your local domestic violence shelter. You do not need a lawyer to file, but a lawyer can advise you on your options and strategies. You also may not need a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If your abuser appears with a lawyer, however, you will be at a disadvantage if you do not have one. One of the Legal Services Alabama offices may be able to help you.
When you file your Petition, the judge may give you a temporary protection order. This order tells your abuser to stay away from you and/or your children.
The judge will schedule a hearing to hear both sides. You must attend the hearing and tell the court what happened. If you do not attend, the judge will dismiss the protection order.
At the hearing, the judge may order that the abuser leave your home. The judge may also award custody of the children, child support and/or support for you.
Violation of a Protection Order is a misdemeanor. An abuser who violates the protection order can be arrested.
Remember a protection order does not stop bullets or knives. Contact your local domestic violence program for help in making a personal safety plan. If your abuser violates the protection order, you need to call the police right away. Always keep a copy of the protection order with you.
You may choose to file for a divorce. You can ask for a restraining order or a protection order as part of the divorce. Since your safety is always the main concern, Legal Services cannot file a divorce for you while you are still living with your abuser. You may seek temporary safety with your local domestic violence shelter until you can get a protection order and a court order giving you exclusive possession of your home.
Criminal cases are filed in the name of the State. As the victim, you are a very important witness. You should cooperate with the police and the prosecutor. You may have to meet with a prosecutor before the trial. You will have to appear at the trial. Otherwise, the Court may have to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.
In some places, the prosecutor may press you to drop charges. The prosecutor may say that a civil action will protect your rights. If your abuser committed a crime, don't be afraid to tell the prosecutor you will not drop the charges.
In other counties, the courts will not drop the charges even if you ask them to. Many courts have this policy to protect victims from being pressured by the abuser to drop charges.
If the sheriff or the police did not file charges against your abuser, you may swear out a warrant on your own. You do this in the city or county where the abuse happened. Tell the warrant officer (or magistrate) that your case involves domestic or family violence.
Once the warrant is issued, the sheriff or the police will try to arrest your abuser. Be aware that after his arrest, your abuser will be able to get out of jail on bond until his trial. For your protection, you should ask whoever arrested your abuser to include in his bond a requirement that he stay away from you and not even call you. You should get a copy of this order and keep it with you.
Note: Your local Alabama domestic violence program has other services available that may benefit you in this time of need. These services might include counseling for adults, counseling for children, safety planning, and/or referral to other service agencies. Please contact your local program to determine what is available in your area. Call Alabama's Domestic Violence Hotline Toll-Free at 1-800-650-6522 to find your local program.
Reviewed May 2012
AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For 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 HERE.