For individuals who are experiencing—or have experienced—family violence/intimate partner violence during this COVID-19 pandemic, know that help is out there. The following Q&A is a resource for anyone seeking assistance. It was developed and prepared by students of the Family Violence Litigation Clinic of The Justice Center at Albany Law School. April 2020.
Q: I am experiencing violence in my home and need emergency assistance. Who can I contact?
A: Call 911 if you are in immediate danger. Additionally, New York State has recently launched a confidential texting and chat line for survivors who are seeking information. Text: 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov
Q: Where can I find information about this in another language?
A: Information in various languages for victims of Domestic Violence, including Spanish, is available at this web link: https://www.lawhelpny.org/
Q: I am experiencing violence in my home and I need help with a safe place to live and other services. Who can I contact?
A: First, be aware that due to the current coronavirus pandemic, social service agencies have also had to alter their normal operations. Reaching out by phone will generally be best rather than going in person without an appointment. Each agency will be able to explain their current services and procedures.
New York State Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence at 1-800-942-6906.
For assistance in Albany County, contact the Equinox 24- hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 518-432-7865 or get more information at https://www.equinoxinc.org/page/domestic-violence-services-15.html
For assistance in Rensselaer County, contact Unity House of Troy at 518-272-2370 or get more information at https://www.unityhouseny.org/services/domestic-violence-services/
For assistance in Saratoga County, contact Wellspring at 518-584-8188 or get more information at https://www.wellspringcares.org/get-help/domesticviolence/
For assistance in Schenectady County, contact the YWCA of Northeastern NY at 518-374-3386 or get more information at: http://www.ywca-neny.org/domestic-violencehotline-shelter/
Q: I am not sure if I should or can leave right now. What emergency plans can I put in place now?
Contact the Domestic Violence Program in the county where you live for advice on “safety planning.” You can find tips on safety planning at: https://www.womenslaw.org/about-abuse/safety-tips
Q: What do I do if I need protection by the legal system to keep an abusive person away?
A: You may need to get an Order of Protection. You can get more information about orders of protection at https://www.nycourts.gov/faq/orderofprotection.shtml
Q: Can I get an order of protection during the COVID-19/coronavirus crisis?
Yes. New York courts consider cases where a person is seeking an order of protection to be “essential” and courts will hear these cases during this COVID-19 crisis. You can get an order of protection through criminal court or family court. If you want to go through criminal court, call the police or dial 911. If you want to go to family court, before you can see a judge, you need to fill out a FAMILY OFFENSE PETITION. This will begin the family court process. You can find a family offense petition online at http://ww2.nycourts.gov/forms/familycourt/domesticviolence.shtml Click the link for “Family Offense Petition” which is form 8-2.
Q: Who can I get an order of protection against through Family Court?
A: You can get an order against your spouse; your ex-spouse; a household member; the parent of your child(ren), even if you were never married; someone who is related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption; or someone with whom you have an “intimate relationship,” even if you are not related.
Q: What is an order of protection?
A: An order of protection is a court order that tells your abuser to stop abusing you. For example, it can tell an abuser to stay away from you, your home, work, and/or school. It can also prohibit all contact or some types of contact between the abuser and you. For instance, the court can order the abuser to only contact you by text or email and only for certain reasons, such as to arrange parenting time between the abuser and your child(ren), that is if you have a child or children in common with the abuser. The order can give you temporary custody of your child and child support. Generally, an order from family court lasts for one-year but it can last for longer, at most five-years. An order of protection cannot guarantee your safety, but if your abuser does not obey the order, they can be arrested and put in jail or experience other consequences from the court. You can learn more about orders of protection here: https://www.lawny.org/node/13/order-protection-new-york
Q: What do I do with my completed Family Offense Petition?
A: You have to file your petition with the court. Depending on the county where you are filing your petition, you can do so in person by mail or online. Because of COVID-19, the location of some courts and when matters can be heard have changed. If you have to file your family offense petition in person, find your designated court at this link: https://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/Designated-Locations.pdf
Q: I want to file my petition online; where do I do that?
A:In Albany County, you can email your petition to Albany County Family Court at: firstname.lastname@example.org Petitions can also be faxed to Albany County Family Court at: 518-238-4344. For other counties, it is best to call the family court of that county directly to find out how to file your petition online. Some counties do not accept e-filing and you may have to file with the court in person or by mail.
Q: Does it cost any money to file a Family Offense Petition with Family Court?
A: No, there is no cost to file a petition in family court.
Q: Where can I get legal assistance and/or more information about e-filing and other legal information?
A: The Legal Project: 518-435-1770. Unity House Law Project: 518-272-5917. Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Albany Office: 1-800-462-2922. Equinox: 518-432-7865. The Family Violence Litigation Clinic at the Justice Center: 518-445-2328.