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?
- Dress like you are going to church or to a job interview.
- Wear clothes that are dressy but comfortable. A conservative dress, dress pants/slacks, or a shirt and tie.
- Avoid loud colors, excessive jewelery, shirts with slogans, revealing clothing, etc.
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.
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 the someone know - the bailiff, the judge, or someone else who works for the court. The court should be able to provide security or have you and the abuser wait in different areas.
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 tell the judge why you need the protection order.
- If you have a lawyer, he or she will ask you questions.
- A domestic violence shelter court advocate may be with you in court. If this person is not a lawyer, they will not be able to represent you at the hearing.
- However, the court advocate will probably be familiar with the courtroom proceedings, the judge, the judge's staff, etc. They are there to be your advocate and they are on your side.
- The judge will probably not let the adovcate ask questions during the hearing, but they will probably let them stay with you during the hearing.
- 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?
- The judge may ask you about your relationship with the abuser, the names and ages of your children, a brief history of the abuse, and what you want the judge to do.
- Answer the questions directly and respectfully. If you do not understand a question, ask the judge to repeat it or ask it another way.
- NEVER argue with the judge, interrupt the judge, or speak over the judge. Wait untilt hey are done speaking to ask any questions you may have.
- Remain as calm as possible while testifying. Talking about the abuse will obviously be emotional. You can let the judge know that you are scared, and it's ok to be upset about what happened. But, the judge needs to understand what happened from you. Try to let the judge know what happened and how you feel as clearly as you can.
- If you have a lawyer, the lawyer will ask you questions. If your abuser has a lawyer, his lawyer will ask you questions.
- If your abuser does not have a lawyer, he will also get to tell the judge what he thinks happened.
- 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.
- After you testify you can call your witnesses.
- 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 (pre-tax) income, child support actually being paid under any previous court order, medical insurance premiums for your children, and child care (daycare) 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?
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.
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.