“Safer at home” does not apply to all who are quarantined in their homes during COVID-19. With social isolation from support networks and financial hardships, domestic violence (“DV”) is on the rise, while child abuse reports are down, probably because children don’t have access to mandatory reporters with schools and doctors’ offices being closed.
Bench officers report cases where abusers do not allow a survivor to leave the residence, access cleaning supplies, and even instances where a perpetrator intentionally tries to infect the survivor with coronavirus. Compounding the normal difficulty with leaving an abusive relationship is that due to COVID-19, DV shelters don’t have movement, rental showings are few and far between, and unemployment remains high.
The court procedures and policy are evolving in response to the recommendations of health and political figures, so while the information herein may be current as of its date of publication, it may not be applicable in the future.
Filling Out Your DV-100 (Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order)
This is not the time to write a suspense novel—spoilers are welcomed. Describe the abuse on the DV-100 form, in item #27 (“Describe Abuse” section). Judges look to this section to see if they have grounds to grant the TRO (Temporary Restraining Order). A longer attached Declaration will be helpful for granting the Permanent RO (Restraining Order) set for a hearing a few weeks later, but it does you no good if your request for a Temporary Restraining Order is denied because your description of abuse is buried on page 13. Don’t write “See Attached” but instead write your response to each question on the space provided on the form. Answer every subpart, including who was there (witnesses), weapons used (name them), if the police were involved, and state if any other emergency protective orders or criminal protective orders have been issued. Is the Department of Children and Family Services or Child Protective Services involved? When describing the abuse, look at the definition of “abuse” in question #27 for what types of conduct will lead a judge to granting your request for a Temporary Restraining Order and use those words to describe your situation.
In addition, complete all supplemental forms, such as the DV-105 (Request for Child Custody and Visitation Orders) if you have minor children with the other party. Also, attach important exhibits, such as text messages or photos of injuries. All of your statements within the DV forms are signed under penalty of perjury so they will be admitted into evidence by the Court, subject to the Evidence Code and the Code of Civil Procedure, so make sure you describe abuse with enough specificity to meet your burden of proof. If you have sensitive exhibits that you do not want filed in the public record, bring them in binders to the hearing with 4 sets (for the judge, the witness, opposing counsel, and judicial assistant) to prevent too many hands from touching the same papers or evidence.
The TRO (Temporary Restraining Order)
Until the courts fully reopen, which is currently set for June 22, 2020 (http://www.lacourt.org/newsmedia/notices/newsrelease), the judge who reads your initial request for a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) may not be the same as the one who is sitting on the bench for your permanent restraining order hearing a few weeks later. Even before COVID-19, judges reviewed TROs all day long amidst their regularly scheduled hearings. Keeping that in mind, you will want to be even more concise with limited staffing at courthouses during this pandemic; otherwise, you may be in for a long wait. Make it easy for the judge to grant your requests: bring blank order forms (forms DV-109 (Notice of Hearing), DV-110 (Temporary Restraining Order) and DV-140 (Child Custody and Visitation Order), if you have minor children) with your proposed relief pre-filled so the judge merely needs to sign. It is easier for a judge to amend your requested relief with correction tape than having to write all of the requested relief from scratch. After the bench officer issues the orders, be sure to review them carefully.
How Do I File and Serve My DVRO (Domestic Violence Restraining Order)?
You can file your application for a temporary restraining order at any Los Angeles Superior Courthouse but it will be set for a permanent restraining order hearing at the appropriate venue, and then you must give notice to the Respondent. Be sure to get the Respondent personally served and file your DV-200 (Proof of Personal Service) before the hearing. The Sheriff can help with service. If the Respondent evades service, tell the Court at your hearing and you may be granted permission for alternative methods of service (see form DV-205, What if the Person I Want Protection From is Avoiding (Evading Service) for more information).
“I Was Served with a TRO – Now What Do I Do?”
If you were served with a request for a Domestic Violence Restraining order, you likely do not have a lot of time before the hearing date to retain counsel. Because of that, you have a right to one continuance at the first hearing, so you can retain counsel or gather evidence and witnesses to present a proper defense. This delay may pose a short-term hardship for parents who have been restricted from any custodial time with their children, but in the long-term this continuance may help in prevailing against the other party’s request. As long as a criminal case is not pending, prepare a written Response on form DV -120. It will also be admitted under the same restrictions described for the DV-100. This can be filed at the last minute but confirm the judge has read it before the hearing commences. Sometimes late minute filings don’t make it to the judge before the hearing! A written response helps set the stage in the bench officer’s mind and helps expedite what facts need to be presented at the hearing to make a determination.
Before Your Noticed (Permanent) Restraining Order Hearing
If you are going to request a continuance or stipulate (agree) to one, let the judicial assistant know in advance of your hearing date. Before COVID-19, a personal appearance was required to request a continuance, but now you can notify the department in advance telephonically and provide them with the required forms, a DV-115 (Request to Continue Hearing) and a proposed DV-116 (Order on Request to Continue Hearing). Confer with opposing counsel regarding available dates for a continuance, keeping in mind that courtrooms usually have particular days of the week devoted to these hearings (so if your initial hearing was a Wednesday, a new stipulated date should also be a Wednesday). You may not get confirmation about the continuance date until the day of the hearing, so check in with the judicial assistant.
Similarly, if you know that you are going to need an interpreter or an assistive listening device, those are limited resources and require advance notice so that they can be ordered and present for the day of your hearing. If you need an interpreter in advance: http://www.lacourt.org/generalinfo/courtinterpreter/GI_IN001.aspx
Prepare proposed orders in advance and bring them the day of the hearing, such as a DV-130 (Restraining Order After Hearing) and a DV-140 (Child Custody and Visitation Order) if you and the other party share minor children.
Meet and confer with opposing counsel before the day of the hearing because you and opposing counsel will be forced to keep at least 6 feet distance between you. Tell the court if any agreements are reached so you can narrow the hearing scope to only contested issues. Again, shorten the amount of time you need in front of the judge and others during COVID-19.
Can My Witnesses or I Appear by Phone or Video?
Check with your department about video (WebEx) or phone (Court Call) options. Consider health risks for both yourself and your witnesses. Remember social distancing prevents a bunch of friends and family from sitting in the gallery. Expediency is more necessary now than ever with the backlog of matters so unless your witness is critical, s/he may be excluded to prevent cumulative (repetitive) evidence. Under most circumstances, DO NOT bring your kids to the Courthouse. It was discouraged before COVID-19, but now it is even less desirable due to the physical and emotional health tolls such testimony lays on children for the rest of their lives.
If you want to appear by video, be sure that you have all of the appropriate technology and login information to hear, be heard, see and be seen. If you are appearing by video, how will your lawyer be appearing—in person, on video from a different site from you, on video from the same site as you? How will you to be able to communicate with each other and still maintain confidentiality and present testimony without the appearance of coaching?
Will appearing by video reveal your location at a domestic violence shelter thereby putting you at risk of harm?
Court Call may have fees, so if you are of modest means, apply for a Fee Waiver.
Be aware of video and phone conference etiquette—mute yourself until it is your turn to speak. The Court doesn’t want to hear your typing or dog barking during another case.
The Day of the Hearing
Calling or checking in may take longer than usual as litigants and counsel need to maintain 6 feet distance at all times. Wear your mask, know that the judge and everyone in the court will be wearing theirs. If you are on video, know that video is less effective than live, in-person testimony, but is an alternative if health risks are present. Prior to COVID-19, hearings were set at 8:30 a.m. for everyone, however now they may be staggered throughout the day to minimize the number of people at the courthouse at any given time.
If you share children with the other party, you will be required to go to mediation before your hearing to work on a parenting plan. Family Court Services has yet to announce its remote mediation services for DVROs—it does have an Online Dispute Resolution program for non-DV custody cases.
The witness stand is within 6 feet of the judge and may not be used, unless plexiglass is installed between the judge and the witness. Parties may not be allowed to sit with counsel at counsel’s table and may be seated behind their lawyers.
Be a friend to your court reporter and speak slowly and enunciate. S/he cannot read your lips or easily hear you with a mask on. It is even more difficult to transcribe with a poor internet or cell phone connection.
If you need assistance with requesting or responding to a DVRO, please contact our team at (818) 462-5076 to request a consultation with a member of our team.