Domestic abuse and domestic violence are a very serious concern in New Mexico and across the United States. The courts in New Mexico, both civil and criminal, take the issue of domestic abuse and domestic violence very seriously.
Getting Help in Domestic Abuse Situations
As suggested, these cases come up in both civil family court and in criminal court. In Albuquerque and Rio Rancho where Collins & Collins, P.C has the bulk of its cases, there are domestic violence offices set up within the family court divisions to deal with issues of domestic violence in a civil court setting. This will be the starting point for any Petition for Order of Protection.
If you are in a situation involving domestic violence or abuse, there are number resources available to help you. We have created a partial list at our Helpful Links – Domestic Abuse/Domestic Violence page.
Each of these organizations provides unique services for alleged victims, alleged offenders, families and children. One of these organizations should be right for you and if they are not, they can likely point you toward one that is.
Civil Family Law Court and Orders of Protection from Domestic Abuse
The New Mexico Family Violence Protection Act (the Act) was created to provide citizens with immediate access to the civil courts in domestic violence situations. Actions filed under the Act are addressed in civil court within the family court division if there is one.
Keep in mind that the same act of domestic abuse can and often is also charged in criminal court. In addition, though an Order of Protection may begin in civil family court, it can quickly escalate to criminal charges in case of violations of the Order of Protection. These charges would be above and beyond any criminal charges related to the original act of domestic abuse.
The Act is Not Limited to Household Members
The Act defines domestic abuse fairly broadly. Most consider domestic abuse as involving family members or household members. In fact, the Act covers many situations beyond the traditional household.
The Act specifically covers an act of stalking or sexual abuse whether it involves a household member or not. In addition, “household member” is defined fairly broadly to include people well beyond the traditional household relationship.
The act will cover both existing household relationships (parents, step-parents, spouses, children, in-laws) as well as anyone with whom the petitioner has had a “continuing personal relationship.” This catchall definition covers a lot of ground such as ex boyfriends and girlfriends).
Acts of Domestic Abuse Defined Under the Family Violence Protection Act
In addition to defining the relationships pretty broadly, the Act defines acts of domestic abuse broadly. Again, stalking and sexual abuse are addressed separately with no household relationship or other relationship required.
For those cases involving a qualifying relationship, an act of domestic abuse includes any situation where an individual commits a covered act against another household member, which may include threatened harm, physical abuse, harassment, severe emotional distress, criminal trespass, and more.
Double Edged Sword — The Act is Often Abused
The Family Violence Protection Act affords a significant level of protection for victims of domestic violence. At the same time, the Act and the courts can and are used maliciously and/or dishonestly against innocent men and women with regularity.
The reasons for these systemic abuses are many. Often, false allegations of domestic violence arise in contested divorce actions. Other times, a false report of domestic violence may be used in an attempt to gain advantage in high conflict child custody disputes.
Then there are the purely malicious actions bent on destroying an individual with the often catastrophic consequences associated with a finding of domestic violence.
The Act Protects Both Parties
Because of the potential abuses and frequent false charges, we are careful to use the terms “alleged victim” and “alleged offender”. This is not meant to trivialize the very real problem of domestic violence and abuse. It simply reflects the fact that a Respondent (individual accused of domestic abuse) is innocent until proven guilty.
To that end, the Family Violence Protection Act affords protections for both parties. The Act provides a number of procedural safeguards to protect both the alleged victim and the alleged offender.
The Stakes are High – An Attorney Can Help
Whether an alleged victim or an alleged offender, it is important to understand the process and procedures under the Act to fully protect one’s rights.
Because the consequences for both parties can be significant, it is wise to seek the guidance of an experienced domestic violence attorney in these matters.