Navigating the Legal System
Domestic violence cases are generally heard in two courts- civil and criminal. The two court systems are separate, have different standards of proof, and offer different types of assistance.
Family law cases-including those involving domestic violence issues- are handled in the civil system. Depending on the structure of your state legal system, family law cases are either heard in specialized family law courts or general civil courts. These cases may include:
- protective orders
- child custody
- child support
- marital property
- other non-criminal matters
In the civil court you may be represented by an attorney or (for financial, personal or any other reason) you can represent yourself.
Learn more about selecting a family law attorney.
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Events in which an abuser harms or threatens to harm you are handled in the criminal system. Domestic violence cases may be handled in specialized domestic violence courts or in general criminal courts. These cases can include:
- sexual assault
- malicious destruction of property
- false imprisonment
- child abuse
If you go to criminal court to testify against your abuser, you are considered a witness for the state and are not technically represented by an attorney; prosecutors, who work for the government, bring the criminal case against abusers on behalf of all the citizens of that state -including you.
You may be involved in both the civil and criminal systems simultaneously or at different times. For example, after obtaining a protective order in civil court, you may need to testify in criminal court if your abuser violates that order and (depending on the state law) is charged with violation of a protective order.
Information contained on this website should not be construed as legal advice. Read full disclaimer.