Domestic Violence Laws in NC
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are not alone. It is estimated that more than 4 million women in the United States are victims of domestic violence each year. Although women make up the vast majority of the victims of domestic violence (85%), men and children are also its victims.
There are specific laws in North Carolina that provide speedy and effective protection to victims of domestic violence. If your spouse is uncontrollably violent and you believe that you or your children are in danger, then you should immediately call the police. When you have reached a safe haven, you should then call the domestic violence agency in your county which will give you additional advice and directions to a shelter if you are fearful of returning home. In Wake County, North Carolina, you can contact InterAct of Wake County's 24 Hour Crisis Line at 919-828-7740 or 866-291-0855 (toll-free).
We would like to provide you with a brief overview of the legal actions available to you if you or your children are victims of domestic violence. For additional information, see Legal Aid of North Carolina's A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVAL.
North Carolina Domestic Violence Laws
In 1979, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the Domestic Violence Act, Chapter 50B, to deal with the growing problem of domestic violence. This statute protects a wide spectrum of possible victims of domestic violence:
- Current or former spouses;
- Current or former household members;
- Persons of the opposite sex who are dating each other or have dated each other;
- A person who is living with a person of the opposite sex;
- Children and their parents or grandparents;
- Persons acting in the role of a child's parent; and
- Persons who have a child in common.
Under this statute, any act which attempts to cause or intentionally causes bodily injury is domestic violence. Any act which places a person in fear of "imminent serious bodily injury" by threatening the use of force is also domestic violence. Further, acts of "continued harassment," which can included unwanted telephone calls, text messages, electronic messages, and/or e-mails that terrorize or torment a person (and serve no legitimate purpose) can constitute domestic violence. Acts constituting first or second degree rape of first or second degree sexual offense under the North Carolina criminal code are clearly acts of domestic violence.
To obtain a protective court order against your abuser, you must file a complaint at your county courthouse (or if the courthouse is closed, with your local county magistrate) alleging the specific facts of domestic violence and your relationship to the abuser. The complaint forms are available from the Clerk of Superior Court at all county courthouses in North Carolina (or from the magistrate's office after regular courthouse hours). By law, no court costs will be assessed for the filing of a complaint for domestic violence seeking a protective order.
Based upon your complaint, the court may issue an ex parte protective order. Ex parte is a legal term meaning that the court entered the order based on a hearing in which one of the parties was not present. The court can order that you be given possession of your home, personal property, household possessions, vehicles, and animals kept as pets. The court may also order that your abuser stay away from your residence, place of employment or your children's schools.
By law, the court must conduct a second hearing (a "return hearing") within 10 days after issuing an ex parte protective order. At that hearing you will again testify to the specific facts of domestic violence. Your abuser will also have the opportunity to testify in his or her own defense. Witnesses may be called to testify as well. If the presiding judge is convinced that acts of domestic violence took place after hearing testimony from the parties and any other witnesses, the court will issue a permanent protective order which is effective for one year.
Protective orders terminate after one year. Prior to its termination, a victim may apply to the court for the renewal of his or her protective order for up to an additional two-year term (which can later then again be renewed for "good cause" prior to the expiration of the renewed order). Upon obtaining a protective order, you should send a copy of the order to your abuser if you believe that he or she has not already been served with it by law enforcement (note that the Sheriff's Department in your county will attempt to serve the order on your abuser as soon as possible). You should also keep a copy of the protective order ready at hand if there is any future need to call the police for protection against your abuser.