By: Alan Freed
A husband threatens to shoot his wife. A jilted girlfriend continually sends menacing messages and shows up uninvited at her ex’s door. An adult child beats up his aging parent. These, and countless similar scenarios, can leave the victims feeling hopeless and vulnerable. Missouri’s Adult Abuse Act is designed to provide a quick and effective means of protecting those victims and granting them immediate relief.
Here are a few basic facts about this very useful, but often misunderstood, and occasionally misused law.
What is “abuse?”
The Adult Abuse Act defines “abuse” to include
- Assault (placing someone in fear of harm);
- Battery (causing physical harm);
- Coercion (compelling someone to do, or not do, an act against their will);
- Harassment (deliberately causing someone distress by repeated actions);
- Sexual assault (forcing someone into a sexual act); and
- Unlawful imprisonment (holding someone against their will).
Who can file an action?
- Former spouses;
- People who have lived together; and
- Former boyfriends/girlfriends.
In addition, anyone who is the victim of “stalking” can file an action under the Adult Abuse Act, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.
How do you file an action?
The law allows for self-help, meaning anyone can go to the Circuit Court in their community and fill out a form petition. However, because the law has strict definitions about what conduct constitutes abuse, you should consult an experienced family law attorney to determine whether your situation qualifies for protection under the Act.
What are the steps in the legal process?
- The petitioner (person seeking the order of protection) files a petition. There is no filing fee.
- The petition is presented to a judge to determine whether the allegations warrant an immediate “ex parte” order. An “ex parte” order is one that is entered without having a hearing. The idea is that someone in harm’s way deserves protection right away; the facts and details can be sorted out afterwards.
- If an ex parte order is entered it goes into effect immediately, even before the other party (the “respondent”) has been served, and the respondent will usually be ordered to leave the residence if the parties are living together, and will be required to stay away from and not communicate with the petitioner.
- The respondent is served with a copy of the court’s order by the sheriff’s department or police department
- A hearing is scheduled, usually within 15 days, to allow both parties to appear in court and present their sides of the case.
- If the case can’t be settled, the court will hold a trial to determine if a “full” Order of Protection should be issued (generally lasting for one year and renewable for a second) or if the ex parte order should be dismissed.
This brief summary of the law merely scratches the surface. Trials of orders of protection often become a “he said/she said” battle, leaving judges in a tough position. They often will err on the side of caution and protect the victim. Consequences of a full order of protection can be severe and long-lasting.
Whether you are considering filing for an order of protection, or you have been served with an order, consultation with a skilled family law attorney can make a huge difference. The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal can assist you in understanding this important legal remedy.