Domestic Violence: Recognizing the Signs and Seeking Legal Protection
Unfortunately, domestic violence is a serious problem. According to data cited by the Texas Advocacy Project, an alarmingly high number of Texas—33%—will experience domestic violence at some point during their life. For a person enduring domestic violence—and their close loved ones—recognizing the signs and knowing what to do to seek the proper legal protection can make all of the difference. Within this article, our Houston family law attorney highlights the signs of domestic violence and provides an overview of your legal options for seeking protection in Texas.What is Domestic Violence? (the Legal Definition in Texas)
Domestic violence can take a wide range of different forms. In Texas, it is broadly defined as any act by a family member that causes or threatens to cause physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault to another family member. Notably, the definition of “family member” under Texas law can include a current or former spouse, a co-parent, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and other current or former intimate partners. To be clear, it is not just about physical harm. Domestic violence can include emotional abuse and forced isolation. As domestic violence can become far more severe over time if allowed to persist, it is imperative that it is addressed immediately.Recognizing the Signs of Domestic Violence
For both domestic violence victims and their closest loved ones, knowing how to recognize the signs is essential. Knowing what to look for can make all of the difference in the long run. Here is an overview of three different categories of signs of domestic abuse in Texas:
- Physical Signs: Physical signs are often the most noticeable. Loved ones should look for unexplained bruises, cuts, or marks. In all too many cases, the victim might try to cover these up with clothing or makeup. Pay attention to excuses that do not make sense—such as blaming injuries on being clumsy or accidents that seem to happen too often. Do not judge the victim of domestic violence. The goal is to get them the help they need.
- Emotional Signs: Emotional signs can be harder to see—but they are no less important. Victims of domestic violence might seem scared, anxious, or depressed. Beyond that, they might talk less about their personal life, or they may come across as withdrawn. You might also notice sudden changes in mood or personality. It is not uncommon for a person who is enduring domestic violence to show signs of low self-esteem.
- Behavioral Signs: Finally, you should also look for some behavioral signs of domestic violence. Broadly defined, behavioral signs are changes in how someone acts. A person in Texas who is experiencing domestic violence might stop spending time with friends or talking with their family. It could also start to impact their personal or professional life in other ways. They might be late to work or school often or start missing days altogether. The victim might also be nervous talking around their partner or seem afraid to make them upset.
Domestic violence is a crime in Texas. A person who has been accused of domestic abuse can be arrested and—depending on the nature and severity of the allegations—charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. That being said, for the purposes of seeking immediate legal protection for the victim, the first option is generally through the family law (civil) court process. Here is a step-by-step-guide to seek legal protection from domestic violence in Texas:
- Step #1: Be Proactive: Domestic abuse should never be allowed to persist. It is a matter that always requires immediate follow-up. The first step to protecting a victim in Texas is to recognize that they are not alone and that help is available. Being proactive means making their safety a priority. It could mean getting the victim immediate professional medical care, connecting them with the right counseling, or finding them a new (safe) place to live.
- Step #2: Document What Happened (Safely): The victim of domestic violence should document what happened. To be clear, this should always be done in a safe manner. Safety is the absolute top priority. Still, documentation can be useful to getting the proper legal protection through the Texas court system. Along with other things, this step can include keeping a journal with dates and details of incidents, saving any threatening texts or emails, and taking photos of injuries and damages.
- Step #3: Apply for a Protective Order (Temporary Ex Parte): In Texas, a domestic violence victim can apply for a temporary ex parte protective order. It is a legal order that can help protect them from the abuser. The order can be granted based solely on allegations of domestic violence. A top-tier Houston, TX, family law attorney can help you obtain the right order. Notably, in Texas, a temporary protective order typically lasts for 20 days. It is not designed as a long-term solution.
- Step #4: Seek a Final Protective Order: After receiving a temporary order, a court hearing will be scheduled for a final protective order. This is where having your documentation is vital—as both sides to a case have the right to present their side of the story during a final protective order hearing in Texas. A final protective order can last for two years in Texas. Further, it can be extended when deemed appropriate. The protective order can be crafted to meet the specific situation. It can include provisions such as keeping the abuser away from a person, their home, their work, and their children.
At Thornton Esquire Law Group, PLLC, our Houston family lawyer has the skills and experience to handle the full range of domestic violence matters. We know these cases require the absolute highest level of care. Call us at (888) 378-1784 or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation. With an office in Houston, we handle family law issues throughout the area, including Harris County, Fort Bend County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, and Montgomery County.