For many, self-isolation due to the Massachusetts’s COVID-19 stay at home order comes with added stress, anxiety, and financial worries. While these procedures are necessary to prevent widespread infections and deaths, many households are now dealing with economic uncertainty as workers are laid off or under new pressures to fulfill their duties while avoiding becoming ill. Inadvertently, this has led to an increase in spousal and child abuse.
An Increase in Domestic Violence Reports
Just as the initial stay at home orders were enacted in major cities across the United States, experts worried that domestic violence would be on the rise as businesses were closed. Sadly, these worries were true, as many countries noted an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines from victims in lockdown, according to an article from the New York Times. These reports were not only limited to spouses and partners, but also children, as the United Nations Child’s Fund (UNICEF) claimed the closure of schools and an increase in caregiver stress would contribute to new instances of abuse.
Under normal circumstances, it is very difficult for a victim to report abuse and escape their abuser. Victims of domestic violence often feel isolated by their abuser and may rely on them financial or emotionally for support. An international pandemic only increases these feelings of isolation, as some victims fear that they cannot go to hospitals to get treatment or are being threatened with abandonment by their abusers. Without the ability to easily leave a home and the added financial anxiety, many victims feel trapped with their abusers. This is especially difficult for children who many not know how to identify abuse or to report it.
However, while the stay at home order has created new barriers for victims of abuse, the Massachusetts state government has acknowledged the serious dangers of domestic violence and opened up avenues for victims to report and respond to abuse.
What Options Are Available for Victims?
In the state of Massachusetts, victims of abuse may file an abuse prevention order with the court to protect themselves and their children from an abuser. To request an order, the abuser must be a member of the victim’s household—meaning the abuser can be a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, child, roommate, or extended family member—and have committed some form of physical abuse, sexual assault, or threatened abused against the victim.
Despite courts being closed to the public during the stay at home order, victims can still request abuse prevention orders. Traditionally, victims would be expected to go to a courthouse to petition the court for the order, but the Massachusetts Trial Courts have enacted Emergency Order 20-5, which allows judges to approve orders at any time if they feel the victim is in immediate danger. These orders would last for ten days, during which the abuser would not be allowed to contact the victim, enter their household, or come within a certain number of feet. Within those ten days, the court would also schedule a hearing by telephone or video call to allow a judge to hear both sides of the issue. If the judge determines that the victim is at risk for further abuse, they may extend the order.
Resources for Children
While abuse prevention orders are available to children, many minors are not aware of how to pursue legal action against a family member or even that they are being abused. Often times, abuse is not reported by the child, but by concerned family members, teachers, or other authority figures. If you suspect a child is being abused, contact the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The DCF is still operating during quarantine and is available 24/7 to investigate cases of abuse and can take legal action against the abuser.
In some instances, they may feel it is better to grant temporary custody. While most family law services are closed because of COVID-19, the courts consider temporary guardianship an emergency matter and are still hearing cases. If the court determines that it is in the best interests of the child and that you are eligible to receive temporary guardianship, they may grant your request in order to protect the child from additional abuse and hardships.
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Legal Representation Is Still Available
While the DiBella Law Offices, P.C. are abiding by all recommendations from the state of Massachusetts regarding social distancing and stay at home orders, our Massachusetts family law attorneys are still available to hear your case and provide legal advice. We can be contacted online or by phone at (978) 327-5140. We also provide legal services for clients in Boston, Burlington, and Andover. If you require the legal services of a family law attorney during this trying time, do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced and knowledgeable legal team