DOMESTIC ABUSE:SEEKING HELP DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Due to the widespread pandemic of the coronavirus, Courts across Illinois have issued various General and/or Administrative Orders with respect to Court operations during this uncertain time. The Illinois Judicial Branch maintains a website that provides links to those Orders as well as additional information to keep the public updated, which can be located at the following website:
Administrative/covid-19.asp. Furthermore, additional information can be located on the Clerk’s websites for each county. Specifically, Courts are rescheduling most court dates to mid-May and even June in some counties (i.e., Will County) and limiting the types of matters being heard in the interim.
Not surprisingly, with the number of shelter-in-place orders in effect across the country and the globe, we are encountering an uptick in domestic violence as many families are forced to stay in confined spaces. Furthermore, the recent prevalence of domestic abuse can be associated with the financial stress caused by the widespread closure of a number of businesses forcing many to become temporarily unemployed as well as the increased pressure stemming from homeschooling children.
The United Nations recently addressed the global increase in the reports of domestic violence since the initial weeks of lockdown and the need for increased support and protection for victims of abuse; as can be read in further detail here:
-domestic-violence-u-n-warns) and https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html https://www.nytimes.com/2020
Nationally, many police departments in the United States have seen an increase in reports of domestic violence as well. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/police-see-rise-domestic-violence-calls-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-n1176151) .
Those experiencing domestic violence still have options and should not be discouraged by the reductions in Court operations; but rather should call the police and immediately seek the assistance of an attorney or visit the local courthouse to obtain an Order of Protection.
The Illinois Domestic Violence Act grants Illinois Courts the authority to enter Orders of Protection on behalf of those who are abused by a member of his/her household or family, which includes “spouses, former spouses, parents, children, stepchildren and other persons related by blood or by present or prior marriage, persons who share or formerly shared a common dwelling, persons who have or allegedly have a child in common, persons who share or allegedly share a blood relationship through a child, persons who have or have had a dating or engagement relationship, persons with disabilities and their personal assistants, and caregivers[.]” (750 ILCS 60/103(6)). Orders of Protection can be granted on an emergency basis without prior notice to the alleged abuser if “there is an immediate and present danger of abuse” to the person seeking the Order, also referred to as the petitioner. (750 ILCS 60/217(c)(1)).
Although Court operations have been restricted, most, if not all, counties in Illinois have implemented procedures for emergencies, including hearing petitions for Orders of Protection. The Domestic Violence Act provides a number of remedies to those seeking the Court’s protection, including, but not limited to,
(i) prohibiting the offender from committing further acts of abuse (including neglect and harassment);
(ii) prohibiting the offender from entering or remaining at the residence or household of petitioner, regardless of whose name is on the title or lease to the property;
(iii) requiring the offender to stay away from the petitioner;
(iv) ordering the offender to obtain counseling;
(v) granting the petitioner physical care and possession of minor children if necessary and awarding temporary decision-making authority for the minor children to the petitioner; and
(vi) entering orders regarding personal property and the care and possession of animals. (750 ILCS 60/214(b))). The aforementioned remedies may apply to all those protected by the Order of Protection, which can include children. However, on an emergency basis, a Court is limited as to which remedies that can be entered. (750 ILCS 50/217(a)(3)).
Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Act allows Courts to enter orders regarding financial support in certain cases as well (i.e., in connection with a dissolution of marriage or to support a minor child). Thus, the economic uncertainty of having a partner removed from the home should not keep one from seeking the appropriate relief.
Each county has a procedure in place for those seeking relief from domestic abuse by seeking an Order of Protection, and most counties provide free resources at the courthouse as mandated by the Illinois Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act. Even during the pandemic, courthouses are ensuring that Judges are available to hear Orders of Protection during regular courthouse hours.
For example, if a resident of DuPage County, Illinois, is suffering from domestic abuse, in addition to seeking the legal advice of an attorney or seeking an Order of Protection on one’s own behalf, he/she can contact the Victim Services Advocates of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office Victim Services Unit to assist in filing the necessary court documents to initiate the Court process of seeking an Order of Protection and can accompany the victim to court. Additional information for seeking the assistance of the Victim Services Advocates can be located here:
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Assistance Unit provides similar resources to victims of domestic violence who live in Cook County, Illinois.
In whichever county the petitioner is seeking an Order of Protection, he/she should be prepared to provide the Judge with the details surrounding the abuse in writing in the Petition for Order of Protection itself and in the form of testimony, under oath. If the Judge grants the emergency Order of Protection, the petitioner should seek legal advice as soon as possible (if he/she has not already done so) because an emergency Order of Protection is only valid and enforceable for a short period of time, typically 14 to 21 days. (750 ILCS 60/220(a)(1)).
The offender, also referred to as the respondent, will be notified of the Order of Protection, typically by being served with a copy by the Sheriff’s Department. A future hearing will be scheduled where the respondent will be allowed to provide the Judge with his/her account of the events before a determination is made to extend the Order of Protection for a longer period, up to two years. It is prudent for the petitioner to be prepared for the hearing to ensure the Order of Protection is extended.
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