How Should I Respond if I’ve Been Accused of Domestic Abuse in Family Court?

Being accused of domestic abuse in court can be terrifying, as the consequences of being charged and convicted can be severe. While people would like to believe that no one would ever lie about something this significant, the fact is that false allegations of domestic abuse do show up in court, particularly in divorce cases where one spouse (incorrectly) feels it’s a way to gain the upper hand in asset division negotiations or child custody rulings.

The first thing someone needs to do if they’ve been accused of this is to contact an experienced domestic abuse defense attorney who understands the laws in Illinois and how to navigate them when defending the accused. These serious accusations could have extreme consequences, so it’s best not to fight them alone. But it’s important to know that the courts will expect the accuser to provide evidence and won’t likely take them just at their word.

Every case is unique, but several types of defenses can help someone be acquitted. This list is not comprehensive but shows some paths that can be taken.

  • The accusations are false. This may be proven in several ways, including photos, emails, text messages, voicemails, or eyewitness testimony.
  • The accuser has no evidence. Someone who has suffered abuse will often have police or medical records that reflect that or witnesses who either saw the abuse or heard about it from the alleged victim. The allegations look more suspect if the accuser makes the claim but has nothing to back it up.
  • The alleged abuse was self-defense or to protect someone else. In Illinois, people have the right to defend themselves if they feel they’re in danger of imminent harm. The harm must be significant, such as bodily harm or death.

How Does Illinois Law Define Domestic Abuse or Violence?

Domestic abuse or violence is any behavior between people in a relationship that becomes harmful, abusive, or threatening.

  • Physical abuse. This includes physical contact meant to harm, such as hitting, pushing, yanking hair, biting, or pinching.
  • Sexual abuse. This largely includes unwanted sexual behavior, such as forced sexual encounters that go against the will of one partner or behaving sexually toward a partner who’s not interested.
  • Physical/medical abuse. If one partner refuses to help the other get needed medical treatment (including barring access to needed medications) or tries to coerce them into taking drugs or alcohol, they don’t want to use, that can be considered abuse. Causing a partner sleep deprivation may be another form.
  • Restraint. One partner makes the other physically unable to go anywhere.
  • Harassment. Not all domestic abuse is physical. If one partner engages in unwanted stalking behavior, creates scenes at the partner’s workplace, appears to be surveilling the partner without permission, or hides children from the partner, that can be considered abuse, too.
  • Intimidates dependents. The dependents can be children or the elderly, but in any event, if one person is dependent on another for the necessities (shelter, food, clothing, medical care) and that person refuses to provide it, that could be deemed abuse.

What Is an Order of Protection, and Will Someone Accused of Domestic Abuse Automatically Receive a Restraining Order?

While “restraining order” is a term often recognized by people, the type of order issued in cases of domestic abuse is known as an order of protection in Illinois. They’re specific to family situations and cohabitation circumstances. That means an order of protection applies to blood relatives, relatives by marriage, people who live in the same home, or a couple who have a dating relationship.

Several things can be enforced through this order.

  • Prevent the alleged abuser from going near anyone protected in the order (spouse, parent, children, etc.).
  • Prevent them from contacting anyone named in the order, whether by phone, email, text, or postal service.
  • Force the alleged abuser to move out of the shared home.
  • Cause the alleged abuser to lose custody of their children.
  • Prevent the alleged abuser from engaging in further harmful actions or threats.

These are sobering consequences. To avoid them, the accused will likely have to appear in court to tell their side of the story. Any evidence that contradicts the accusation should be presented. That could include phone records proving that there was no phone harassment.

Note that there are three types of orders of protection.

  • Emergency order of protection. These are issued when the judge feels there is an immediate risk to the accuser. It lasts 14-21 days. If a judge issues one against someone, they must obey it even if they know the accusation is false.
  • Interim order of protection. This order may be issued to extend the emergency order if a hearing can’t be scheduled quickly enough.
  • Plenary order of protection. These are the final orders issued once the case goes to court.

It’s important to understand that if the accused doesn’t show up for the hearing, the court can find for the accuser with no further evidence.

What Should I Do if I Am Accused of Domestic Abuse Allegations in Family Court?

Call the Law Offices of Robert Buchanan at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation free consultation. We understand how stressful and frightening such allegations can be and how they can affect someone if they’re charged and convicted. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys can help you determine the best outcomes for your case and how to approach going after them.