Domestic violence is a very serious thing, which can make being served with a protective order based on false allegations a frightening experience. False criminal domestic violence charges may be more serious, but civil charges can still cause you problems in addition to the damage to your reputation and the distress caused by the accusation. For example, if you are involved in a divorce or custody battle at the same time, your case can become much more difficult after a domestic violence charge. If you are falsely accused of domestic violence, there are some steps that you can and should take to protect yourself.
If you are arrested on criminal domestic violence charges, you should call a criminal attorney as soon as you can—before you give a statement to the police. From there, your lawyer can work with you to dispute the charges. However, civil protective orders are just as serious.
What Should I Do About a Civil Charge of Domestic Violence?
If you are falsely accused of domestic violence, you may not even be aware that a civil case has been filed against you for domestic violence until you are served with a petition and/or temporary protective order. This means that you are given paperwork by a sheriff or process server informing you that someone has filed for a protective order against you (sometimes called a restraining order). If this happens to you, you should:
- Remain calm. Included in the paperwork you will receive will be your accuser’s testimony and accusations. Domestic violence charges are serious, but it is important that you stay calm. You will have time to dispute the charges in court.
- See if a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order is included. A full protective order cannot be issued without a formal hearing where the accused has a right to be present, but courts sometimes issue temporary orders in the meantime without notice to the accused.
- Obey the temporary protective order! This is the most important thing to remember. Violating a protective order is a criminal offense, whether it is based on truth or not. Don’t make your situation worse and risk being arrested by ignoring the restrictions in a temporary protective order.
- Call a lawyer. Your best chance of getting the protective order petition dismissed is to have a qualified family law attorney on your side. An attorney will help you gather evidence to support your case, and can explain all about the intricacies of Texas family law.
- Go to the hearing. The formal hearing generally takes place within two weeks of the day the petition was filed against you. If a temporary protective order is keeping you from your house or your children, your lawyer may be able to move up the date so you can get the charges resolved as quickly as possible. If you fail to show up, the protective order will automatically be granted, and can last up to two years—so always show up.
- Ask for more time if you need it. Two weeks is not a long time, so if you haven’t had time to hire a lawyer before the formal hearing, you should still go and tell the judge your situation. The courts may grant you extra time so that you can hire counsel.
A civil charge of domestic violence is serious, but a general protective order is even worse. These protective orders can last for up to two years and can include any children you share with the accuser. In Texas, you may be prohibited from owning a gun if you have a protective order against you, and can be criminally charged if you break the terms of that order. Protective orders exist for a very good reason, but if you are falsely accused of domestic violence, there are ways to ensure that your life and reputation are not permanently damaged.