DIFFICULTY: Legal help recommended
Initial Filing Fee: $0
In Florida, domestic violence can be prosecuted either as a civil or as a criminal case. If you choose to prosecute via civil action, you are asking the court to protect you from your abuser, not to send him or her to jail. You do this by filing for an Injunction for Protection. If you are granted an injunction, and the abuser violates it, he or she may be sent to jail. You can drop a civil suit at any time.
If your abuser is prosecuted in criminal court (for assault, murder, theft, harassment, etc.), then it is the state or county prosecutor who has brought the case and has sole control over its proceeding. If you do not wish to press charges, you can ask the prosecutor not to proceed, but ultimately the decision is up to him or her. If the prosecutor proceeds with the case against your wishes, they may subpoena you in order to get your testimony at the trial.
It is not uncommon for a single transgression to result in both civil and criminal cases, which proceed simultaneously.
Step 1: Acquire the necessary forms
There are a number of different types of Injunctions for Protection in the state of Florida, and it’s important to choose the one that best applies to your situation. If you are seeking an injunction against domestic violence, you want Form 12.980(a). For repeat violence, use Form 12.980(f). If you are concerned about releasing your address on public record, for fear of your abuser locating you, you can also file a request for confidential filing of address through Form 12.980(h).
Recently passed statues in Florida now allow for injunctions against stalking, including cyberstalking and online harassment. For more information, visit WomensLaw.org.
Step 2: Fill out the forms
It is very important that you be careful and thorough when filling out your forms. If at any point you need help filling out these forms, contact the Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119, ext 2. If you are concerned about putting your address on the forms, remember to request a confidential filing of address, or consider using a P.O. Box.
The forms will likely ask you to provide information about your abuser, including current address, last known place of employment, date of birth, a physical description, any aliases you know, your relationship with the abuser (especially if you were ever married), and a history of past court cases and/or injunctions involving your abuser. You will also be asked to give a detailed description of the violence perpetrated against you and the circumstances that drove you to seek protection. It is in your best interest to be as honest and thorough as possible.
Do not sign the form until you have shown it to the clerk. You must sign it in the presence of a qualified employee of the court.
Step 3: File the case
When you finish filling out the form, the court clerk will immediately take it to a judge for review. If the judge determines that there is reason to believe you are immediately in danger of violence or abuse, he or she will grant a temporary ex-parte injunction against your abuser. The injunction does not go into effect until the papers have been served (given to the abuser). If the abuser lives in your house, a clerk of the court will help you make him or her leave. This injunction only lasts for fifteen days, in which time you will have to attend a hearing, which your abuser has the right to attend.
Step 4: Hearing and Judgment
At your hearing, it is important to present the judge with evidence of the abuse you have suffered in order to ensure that you are granted a permanent injunction. It is a good idea to obtain help from an attorney, who can make sure you have everything you need and that you are prepared for the trial. If for some reason you can’t attend the trial date you are given, you must contact the court immediately to ask for a continuance, which may not be granted.
If your abuser does not show on the day of the hearing, the injunction may be granted uncontested. However, the court also has the option of setting a new trial date, and will extend any temporary injunction you have against the abuser until that date. If the judge does not extend your injunction automatically, you may have to request that he or she does.