WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Preparing for Court

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 s/he may know that you live in 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 state’s 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.