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Domestic Violence Safety During the Coronavirus

What to Do if Trapped at Home with an Abuser during COVID-19

Kent County Circuit Court records reflect that the court issued 2,400 Personal Protection Orders, sometimes called Restraining Orders, in 2017.  That’s the number of people who felt threatened or harassed by someone in 2017, when they were not trapped at home during the Coronavirus crisis.  During this quarantine, we expect that there has been a significant increase in domestic violence.

For abuse to be ongoing, the abuser needs to isolate the victim.  The current shelter-in-place order provides an abundance of isolation. Ongoing physical or sexual abuse may increase due to the stress of constant contact; children at home; lack of money and work. These victims previously did not report the abuse, and they feel now more trapped then ever.  In some situations, domestic violence may occur for the first time.  The abuser had been able to control his or her temper in the past when they were able to find other outlets for the stress, and now they are dealing with increased stress.   The victim may also feel stuck due to loss of employment, lack of funds, and not know where to start to find help. 

What Steps Do I Take If I am a Domestic Violence Victim During the Coronavirus?

  1. Report the Incident. 

Call a hotline, your religious leader, a trusted friend or family member – someone who will help you take action.  Even if you don’t leave yet, someone needs to know what has been happening to you, and this person or organization can help you set up a life after leaving.

  1. Investigate your options.

Where can you stay after reporting the incident?  What kind of transportation will you have available? What kind of jobs will be available to you or will you qualify for governmental assistance while you get back on your feet?  We’ve provided some options below.

  1. Keep your children safe.

Before you leave the abuser, call an attorney.  Most attorneys will provide you with a free consultation.  Several organizations provide free legal services for victims of domestic violence.  When you leave the home of the abuser, take your children with you!  Shelters are an excellent resource to provide you with a good escape plan.

  1. Get a Personal Protection or No Contact Order.

Most abusers will continue their abusive behaviors after you move out.  Get a court order to eliminate all contact.  Do NOT answer his texts, calls, emails.  You had a relationship with this person.  After leaving, victims often remember the good elements of the relationship; the abuser apologies, and the victim considers returning to the abusive relationship based on promises of counseling and better days ahead.  If you are considering a continued relationship, demand counseling for both you and the abuser; a release of records between the two counselors and only restore portions of the relationship according to your counselor’s approval and advice.

  1. After you leave, get counseling.

In addition to being physically harmed, you sustained emotional harm.  Give yourself time to heal and recover and learn from counseling what you can do to avoid such harmful relationships in the future.

We’ve collected the most common domestic violence resources in Grand Rapids and West Michigan to help victims of abuse:

What to Do If You Need to Call 9-1-1 

If you are physically assaulted, call 911.  If you can show the police evidence of the physical assault (redness from hitting, bruises, cuts, lacerations, property damage, damaged cell phone, disconnected 911 calls, etc.), the police may arrest the assailant immediately when the assault was significant or alternatively, ask the assailant to leave the home.    If you have minor children, insist that the minor children stay with you for their safety and to decrease the cost of divorce litigation or custody disputes.

Some victims audio record the altercation.  Sometimes that is a good option; sometimes it is not.  Some reasons why you should not video or audio record the altercation:

  • The assailant may notice the phone recording your interactions and this will increase the likelihood of an assault.
  • The victim is aware of the recording, and a judge may find that the victim entrapped the assailant (“the victim was looking for a fight and acted like a saint on this recording; whereas in other situations, she is at fault for the fight and the assault”).
  • If you do not have physical evidence of the assault, the prosecutor may not bring charges regardless of the recording.

Suspected Child Abuse During COVID-19

If you believe that the other parent or a someone else physically or sexually abused your child, you may call Children’s Protective Services.  Their hotline remains open 24/7.  The telephone number is 855-444-3911.  Child Protective Services will investigate complaints regarding physical or sexual abuse or neglect. CPS caseworkers are still investigated cases, including visits to homes where suspected abuse occurred

How to Get a Personal Protection Order in Michigan

Once you have moved away from your abuser, you will need a court order to keep the abuser away from you.  If your abuser will still stalk you or enter onto your property, you will need a court order so that law enforcement is on notice about the situation and allows them to arrest the abuser when the order is violated.

There are two ways to obtain a court order:

  1. If the abuser was arrested, the prosecutor will likely obtain a ‘no contact’ order for you.
  2. You can obtain a Personal Protection Order (also known as Restraining Order) yourself by following the procedures described below.

If you need a Personal Protection Order:

  1. Download the appropriate form from Michigan Legal Help and follow their directions to fill out the form. Michigan Legal Help – Do It Yourself PPO.  Start this process when you have enough time. 
    1. The interactive process to finalize the form takes 40-60 minutes.
    2. Start the process only if you can print the form.
  2. At the end of the form, you will find directions to sign, photocopy and file the form. However, those are generic directions when the clerk’s office is open.

In the 17th Circuit Court (Kent County):

  1. Scan your signed Personal Protection Order along with supporting documents and email to: [email protected].
  2. If you are unable to scan documents, you may mail the Petition (along with the required copies as described in the Do-It-Yourself directions to

Clerk

17th Circuit Court

180 Ottawa NW; Suite 2400

Grand Rapids, MI  49503

  1. You will receive a response via email (if you filed via emailing) or mail (if you filed via first class mail and provided a self-addressed stamped envelope).

In the 20th Circuit Court (Ottawa County):

  1. The Circuit Court suggests that you call the court (616-846-8320) for directions how to file your Petition.

Final and Most Important Step: Get a Child Custody Order

Even if you believe that your relationship can be restored with extensive counseling, you still may need some court orders to protect your interests:

  • If you are married, you need a Mutual Restraining Order to protect your assets.
  • If you have minor children, you need a child custody order that keeps your children safe and prevents the abuser from picking up the children at a third-party location and sets forth that no or supervised parenting time will occur.
  • You may need a court order to determine who pays the rent, the mortgage, whether you will receive spousal support, child support and who will pay the utilities, joint credit cards, etc.

Our divorce and child custody attorneys can help you with obtaining a divorce or child custody order and temporary orders for exclusive use of the home, alimony or child support.  Call our attorneys at 616-219-0123.

If you cannot afford an attorney, Legal Aid of Western Michigan may accept you as a client.  If they accept your case, you will receive a free attorney.  You can apply online:  https://lawestmi.org or by calling 616-774-0672.

Resources for Michigan Domestic Violence Victims

  • For more information regarding COVID-19 family law matters, click here
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is still available 24/7.  They are a National organization and do not have local shelter.  However, they can refer you to shelters; provide advice, etc. The number is 1-800-799-7233.  If you are unable to speak on the phone, visit www.thehotline.org or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.
  • Locally, the YWCA’s Nurse Examiner Program (for sexual assault exams) and the emergency shelter are open.  Additionally, the 24-hour helpline is available:  616-454-9922.  For more information: https://www.ywcawcmi.org/our-services/covid19/
  • Safe Haven Ministries is still providing shelter services during the COVID-19 crisis.  Their hotline is open 24/7. The telephone number is 616-452-6664.