That familiar Hollywood story—a short marriage followed by an inevitable divorce—recently took a troubling turn when Amber Heard accused her husband, Johnny Depp, of spousal abuse. Detailing a series of domestic violence incidents, Heard asked a judge for and received a temporary domestic violence restraining order. While the criminal and civil implications of the Depp-Heard marriage have yet to be fully decided, domestic violence is a dangerous crisis that one in four women and one in seven men will experience in their lifetime.*
First, it is important to recognize what qualifies, legally, as domestic violence: abuse or threats of abuse when the abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship. Abuse includes intentional or reckless physical violence, threats of harm to third parties, and threatening behaviors such as harassment, stalking, or property destruction. Additionally, the abuse does not have to be physical—it can be verbal, emotional, or psychological as well.
Next, if a victim needs immediate help, he or she should call 911, a local domestic violence shelter, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). However, victims do have legal options, such as a restraining order, at their disposal as well. A domestic violence restraining order, like the one that Amber Heard received, is a court order that can be obtained by an individual who has been abused (or has been threatened with abuse) by a person with whom he or she has a close relationship. Once in place, a domestic abuse restraining order can be used to enforce the following actions: forbid an abuser to contact or go near the person who requested the order, force the abuser to move out of the victim’s home (even a joint home), pay child support, stay away from family pets, pay bills, and release property, to name a few options.
More specifically, there are four types of restraining orders: 1) an emergency protective order (EPO), 2) a temporary restraining order (TRO), 3) a “permanent” restraining order, and 4) a criminal protective order or “stay-away” order. An EPO can be acquired only by law enforcement and will only last for up to seven days, but judges are available 24 hours a day to grant the order if necessary. If a longer restraining order is needed, a person can seek a TRO—the type of restraining order that Amber Heard sought and received. For a TRO, an individual can go to court and explain to a judge why the order is necessary. If the judge agrees that the requesting person needs protection, a restraining order will be issued, and it will usually last between 20 to 25 days, until the court hearing date. Third, when an individual goes to a TRO hearing, the judge may issue a “permanent” restraining order instead. The order is not actually permanent—it only lasts for up to three years—but a person may request a new order when the previous one runs out. Lastly, sometimes the district attorney will file criminal charges against an abuser. Commonly, the criminal court will issue a protective order against the defendant (the abuser) while the criminal case is ongoing, and if the defendant is found guilty, for three years after the case is over.
Importantly, law enforcement or legal assistance is not necessary to ask for and receive a restraining order, but an experienced family law attorney can ensure that the process is carried out properly and make it easier to handle. For more information about how to best protect yourself when faced with a domestic violence crisis, please contact the lawyers at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri. Again though, if immediate help is needed, please call 911, a local domestic violence shelter, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). The circumstances of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s divorce are alarming, but at least, they do provide an opportunity to have an open discussion about domestic violence and the tools available to those who need help.
Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.