If you are a victim of domestic violence, one of your biggest dilemmas is whether or not to file criminal charges against your abuser. In cases of prolonged physical abuse, kidnapping, relentless stalking or some other extreme circumstance, it would probably be best to take every action possible against your attacker. However, there are isolated, minor incidents that are not as clear-cut. For example, spouses in the middle of a contentious divorce can escalate to shoving or throwing things at each other, even if they have no prior history of violence. There are also accidental injuries that can occur as a result of one partner tripping or falling onto something in the middle of a heated argument.
Ultimately, the choice to file criminal charges is up to you, as the victim. If you choose not to file charges, you should at least obtain an emergency or temporary restraining order through the family courts. The restraining order will prohibit your attacker from approaching or contacting you, which can be helpful if you are in the middle of a divorce, or some other legal dispute. Although most restraining orders are temporary, you could request a permanent order if you want your attacker to leave you alone on a permanent basis.
This brings up the fundamental question of why you would need to press charges if you can seek permanent protection through a restraining order. The truth is, the protection offered by a restraining order is rather limited in scope. While it places legal barriers between you and the other party, it doesn't actually place any physical limitations. Depending on the length and degree of abuse, it may be more prudent to file criminal charges, which could place your attacker behind bars. This will allow you to finalize your divorce, move to another location, or take any other actions to safeguard your family without the threat of attack from a truly dangerous individual. If you are in the middle of a divorce, filing criminal charges could also be helpful when it comes to custody arrangements, although the courts rarely take away a parent's right to at least have visitations. It could, however, help you in obtaining primary custody, which means that your children will be living primarily with you. Keep in mind, however, that your spouse may petition for a custody modification at some point in the future.
Like any other family law issue, the question over whether or not to file domestic violence charges is complex and deeply personal. While there are no easy answers, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand the laws and legal actions that are relevant to your specific situation. If you need guidance on a domestic violence issue, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Our attorneys can also assist you with all other family-law related issues such as divorce, custody, alimony and child support. Please find out about your rights and legal options during a free initial consultation.