Taking A Domestic Abuse Case To Court

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you should consider calling your local enforcement and report the abuser. The police will conduct a preliminary investigation and charge him/her with a crime if there is cause for indictment. Consider working closely with the police during the criminal investigation and the prosecutor during the criminal trial because your abuser will also work with an attorney to avoid jail time.

At the same time, you should also consider filing a civil suit for monetary compensation during the period of abuse. Filing a civil lawsuit is essential, regardless of whether your abuser was physically abusive towards you or not while the relationship lasted.  

Deciding To Take Your Abuser To Court

  • Do you have one or more of the following:
  • Photo or video evidence of physical abuse
  • Document showing you had to get medical treatment due to the abuse
  • Evidence of loss of income due to the abuse
  • Evidence of decrease in the quality of life due to your abuser’s actions

These are some things you will need to pursue a civil suit against your abuser and get monetary compensation worth what you have lost. Generally, consider consulting a family law lawyer to pursue the case with you. If you cannot afford legal representation, contact one of several organizations offering legal aid to victims of domestic abuse in Illinois. If you still cannot find an attorney, go through the self-help section of your state court’s website. Many legal aid websites also provide self-help resources you can use.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit

Go to the local trial court in the county where you live and ask for the clerk’s office. Explain the situation to the court administrative staff and inform them of your intention to file a civil lawsuit. At the same time, request a protective order from the court. Among a victim’s rights is the right to be reasonably protected from an abuser and a protective order is one way to enforce this right. While court administrative staff can provide official templates and resources to help you, they cannot offer legal advice.

The Trial

Given damning evidence, an abuser faces harsh penalties permissible under state laws. In some cases, your abuser’s defenses may be strong enough to counter your accusations, leaving the verdict of guilty or not guilty to the jury of peers. In either scenario, the defendant may reach out to you or your attorney for a settlement agreement. Basically, both parties negotiate demands until they arrive at a consensus fair to the persons involved. Consider using an experienced family law attorney during the negotiations and hire one if your abuser has one.

If both parties reach an agreement, they notify the court, and the case usually ends after the judge reviews the terms of the settlement agreement. The victim must also affirm he/she did not agree to the settlement under duress.

Conversely, if both parties fail to reach an agreement, the case proceeds to a court hearing where both parties make arguments and provide supporting evidence and witness testimony. In the end, a jury decides the extent of liability, and the judge issues a verdict. If guilty, the court awards monetary damages against the abuser.

Tips For Negotiating A Settlement

  • Ensure the defendant covers your court costs so far
  • Negotiate custody if there are children involved
  • Negotiate spousal support if you are separated or divorce
  • Ensure that the protective order remains in place for as long as possible
  • Negotiate terms specifying actions taken when a party violates the agreement

The American Bar Associated provides additional resources for negotiating a settlement (for a fee). 

Consider talking with advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find legal aid near you.

Call (800) 799-SAFE (7233). You may also text “START” to (800) 799-SAFE (7233) and get a callback.