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Legal Information

Court System Basics

How can I be as safe as possible while there’s an ongoing court case?

It is important to consider your safety when thinking about whether or not to file a court case against an abuser. If you have fled an abusive situation and you are now in hiding, filing a court case might allow the abuser to locate you (or at least the county where you have filed the court case). Most states have address confidentiality programs that allow you to use a substitute address for legal filings. However, the application to join your state’s address confidentiality program might take some time to process. In addition, keeping your home address confidential doesn’t change the fact that the abuser will know when you will be in court for a hearing because s/he will also be required to appear in court.

If you are not enrolled in your states address confidentiality program, you might have to list your address on court paperwork that you file. Many courts will have confidentiality protections to block your address on the petition so that only court officials, not the abuser, can see it. If this is a concern for you, then you should discuss this with an attorney before filing a petition or ask the court clerk at the courthouse if there is any way to keep your address confidential.

Another possibility to keep in mind is that if the abuser is currently out of your life, starting a court case against the abuser could have the effect of re-starting the abuse. After physical or verbal abuse has ended, many abusers misuse the court system to continue their attempts to exercise power and control over survivors. For example, the abuser could ask for multiple postponements to try to inconvenience you or choose to appear in court without a lawyer just so that s/he can personally cross-examine you at trial to try to intimidate you

In addition, sometimes, there can be unintended consequences of starting a court case. For example, asking for certain things in court, like custody of children, could cause the other parent to suddenly want to be more involved. Filing for child support might establish paternity. If you are in a situation where the other parent is not asking for visitation or much contact, and that is acceptable to you, you may want to try talking with a lawyer about whether filing a custody petition is even necessary.

Here is a link to our Safety Tips in Court section so you can think through how to best plan for your safety.

I’m afraid the abuser may want to seek out revenge if I file a legal action against him/her. What can I do?

No one can predict what the abuser would or would not do better than you can. At the end of the day, it is your safety at issue and you will have to weigh the risks and rewards of going to court versus not going to court. If you think, in your situation, it is best not to file a legal action against the abuser, you might want to seek other alternatives to keep yourself and loved ones as safe as possible. A local domestic violence program might be able to work with you to create a safety plan that does not include legal action.

If you decide that you need to file a legal action or if your situation absolutely needs the court’s intervention, you should keep in mind that someone who is or was abusing you might want to get back at you (retaliate) if you file court papers against him/her. This might include lashing out at you or your friends and family; posting about you on social media; filing a court case against you; harassing you; or even physically assaulting you. If the abuser commits a crime while retaliating against you, there might be other legal remedies available for you. You can contact the police if it is safe for you to do so, or talk to a lawyer who can advise of possible legal alternatives. Either way, it is important to safety plan so that you and your family can stay as safe as possible. To see some ideas on how to plan for safety, you can visit our Safety Tips section.