Protection From Abuse
Mothers -- or fathers -- who are victims of domestic violence may obtain an order of protection in Arizona. State law defines domestic violence as including both physical abuse and threatening words or conduct. Orders of protection are designed to prevent further abuse, legally prohibit your spouse from engaging in the abusive conduct and are enforceable by the police and court. The order may also include additional requirements, such as having your spouse move out if you live together and prohibiting further contact with you.
Permanent orders require a hearing to prove the domestic violence occurred; however, if you are are in imminent danger, a court may issue an emergency order before a hearing can be scheduled. To request the order, you must go to the clerk of court in any municipal, superior or justice court in Arizona. The clerk will provide you with the paperwork; you must include your spouse's name and address as well as the dates and nature of the abuse. Emergency orders are effective only until the close of one business day after the date they are issued. Permanent orders remain in effect for one year.
It is important to understand that orders for protection do not directly affect child custody in Arizona. However, if you file for protection at the same time you file for divorce, you may request temporary custody. To support your request, it is preferable that you do this while the temporary or permanent order is in effect. In making temporary custody determinations, the court will look to what is in the best interests of the child. Because domestic violence can seriously affect a child's safety and welfare, a judge has the power to award full temporary custody to you based on the existence of the abuse.
In making permanent custody decisions, Arizona judges are required by law to consider domestic violence as a factor against the best interests of the child. Further, your spouse is prohibited from obtaining joint legal custody if you can show a significant pattern of abuse. Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions related to the well being of the child, such as education, medical treatment and religious affiliation. Domestic violence will also play a part in determining where the child stays overnight, known as physical custody. This is especially important if provisions cannot be made for the child's safety.
Organizations in Arizona provide safe havens and legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. Counties typically offer shelters for victims and residents may dial 2-1-1 to obtain an immediate referral. In addition, local legal aid offices provide representation to low-income residents and the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides legal assistance to victims over the telephone. If you meet the income eligibility requirements, you may have all or part of your court costs waived. Because of the seriousness of your situation in comparison to divorces without domestic violence, it is preferable to have an attorney involved in the process.