A new report issued by UK charity Child First investigates the lack of adequate protections in place in UK family courts that prosecute domestic violence. Specifically, the study notes that even when filing complaints regarding domestic violence, UK victims are typically forced to be in the same small courtroom or conference room with their attackers and there is little to no protection for them when they leave the courtroom to use the ladies' room or get a snack. This can also threaten the safety of children of violent relationships who are often placed in the same precarious position when they come to the courthouse with their parents to the courthouse.
The unfortunate part is that placing themselves in this precarious position is the only way to get any kind of relief from the violence an aggression that has dominated their lives. Child First has subsequently proposed a number of changes to the legal system in order to protect victims in the courtroom. For more information on this study: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/childfirst/
Pennsylvania domestic violence law is generally a bit more advanced than UK law, even when it leaves something to be desired. Typically under Pennsylvania law, the victim of domestic violence can seek an emergency Protection from Abuse order through their local magistrate at any time. These orders are typically only good for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. A victim can also seek a temporary Protection from Abuse order at the courthouse for their county. These temporary orders will include provisions limiting contact and sometimes custody for between ten and fourteen days. These orders are "ex parte." This means that the person seeking the order will argue their case before the judge without the accused being present to defend themselves. This policy is a double-edged sword because it allows victims to seek protective orders without having to face their aggressors in court; however, it does not allow the accused to defend themselves in the beginning. This problem has been resolved by Pennsylvania courts by requiring that the order that results from this ex parte hearing be temporary and that a final hearing be scheduled within ten days to two weeks. At this hearing, the accused and the accusers may present their case. Even though several safeguards are in place at these hearings, the victims of domestic violence will often have to come face to face with their accused.
Many local courts have also considered that domestic violence may exist even when it is not reported in the form of a Protection from Abuse Petition and established policies in accordance with that. For example, Allegheny County has a domestic violence waiver program, which allows parties to a custody action to avoid having to interact one-on-one outside the presence of their attorneys if there is a history of domestic violence.
For more information on domestic violence and the role that it plays in family court proceedings, contact our office today.