Domestic Violence Resources in Orange County

            By government statistics, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the U.S. will, sometime in their lifetime, suffer physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. 

            Orange County is a leader in addressing domestic violence.  Under Sheriff Pendergrass, Orange County became the first county in the state (and still one of a few) to have a special unit to assist domestic violence victims.  Social workers within the Department make victims more informed so they can make better decisions; they also focus on the practical needs of the families involved.  Their office serves over 1100 people annually. Yearly training for deputies includes updates on domestic violence issues.  Officers must know how to handle these potentially explosive situations.  In addition to arresting offenders, responding officers can help victims with transport to medical care or shelter, and with securing basic items needed for themselves or their children if they wish to leave the home. 

            Legal tools to address domestic violence include civil 50B orders (also known as DVPOs, which stands for Domestic Violence Prevention Order) and criminal charges.  About 75% of the time, when a DVPO is entered, there are also criminal charges (most commonly assault or communicating threats).

            A DVPO can be obtained when the defendant has caused or attempted to cause bodily injury, or places the plaintiff (or plaintiff’s family/household member) in fear of immediate serious bodily injury or subjects her/them to continued harassment.  In this instance, “continued harassment” means something serious that is beyond annoyance, such as stalking.  DVPOs are available against a spouse, former spouse, current or former dating partner of the opposite sex, member of the opposite sex with whom the victim lives or lived, or a person with whom there is a child in common. 

            The process usually starts with an emergency ex parte order, signed by a judge based on the plaintiff’s written application, followed by a hearing within 10 days.  Defendants should understand that, just because a judge has signed an emergency 50B based on the plaintiff’s paperwork, it does not mean he/she has prejudged the case.  After presentation of the evidence at the 10-day hearing, a judge may continue the order in effect, modify it, or dismiss it entirely.  Judges do not look favorably on anyone who misuses the 50B process to gain an advantage in an ordinary custody or property division case when there is no real fear of violence.

A 50B Order requires the defendant to stay away from the plaintiff (and sometimes the children, depending on whether their safety or well-being is at risk), not to communicate with the plaintiff (and sometimes the children) except as the Order allows, not to threaten the plaintiff directly or through other persons, and to surrender firearms.  Depending on the case, the DVPO can also grant temporary possession of the residence and/or a vehicle, award temporary child custody and/or support, order the defendant to stay away from the children’s school, and provide for the safety of pets. 

DVPOs last for one year.  They can be renewed for an additional year, but custody provisions cannot be renewed.  So, if you have a 50B Order entered with custody provisions, you should plan to do something else to secure custody rights before that first year ends.

A 50B Order is not a bulletproof vest and is not the best solution for everyone.  The Sheriff’s Office social workers can help sort out these issues.  For example, severe mental illness may make an offender unwilling or unable to obey an order, and getting served with one may just push him or her over the edge.  In other cases, a 50B Order or criminal charges may jeopardize the defendant’s job, which could cause a loss of income and benefits for the entire family.

As of writing this article in 2013, Orange County does not have a domestic violence shelter.  Compass Center in Chapel Hill assists domestic violence victims with emergency shelter at hotels or in shelters in nearby counties.  Visitation supervision may be needed to let the defendant see his or her children safely, but Orange County also does not have a supervised visitation center.  The Family Visitation Center in Pittsboro is the closest one, but suitable friends or family members may enable the defendant to keep up his or her relationship with the children in a safe setting.

Resources to help with domestic violence include Orange County Sheriff’s Department (919-644-3050, or 911 anytime) and Compass Center’s 24 hour hotline (919-929-7122).  Many thanks to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance with this article.

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