I only get hit once in a while. Is that abuse? Yes. Minnesota law defines domestic abuse as physical harm, bodily injury or assault; causing fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault; terroristic threats; or criminal sexual conduct committed by one family or household member against another. The law defines a family or household member as spouses and former spouses; parents and children; persons related by blood; persons who have resided together or are currently residing together; persons who have a child in common; a man and woman if the woman is pregnant and the man is the alleged father; or, persons involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship.
What can I do to be legally protected against my abuser? An order for protection, also called an OFP, is granted by the court to protect you from abuse by a family or household member. OFPs may prohibit the abuser from entering your home, workplace, or school. The OFP may order the abuser to pay temporary child support, grant temporary custody and visitation, or award temporary use of property. To apply for an OFP, pick up a Domestic Abuse packet at the Olmsted County Courthouse. You will need to fill out the paperwork and file it with the court. There is no fee for filing an OFP. The court may or may not hold a hearing on your OFP. You do not need an attorney to get an OFP. However, both LAOC and the Women's Shelter can help you with this process.
If I want to leave the abuser, where can I get help? If you are in danger, call 911. The police are trained and can help you in many ways, such as removing the abuser from the premises, getting you medical attention if you need it, and putting you in contact with other resources you may need. The Women's Shelter is dedicated to helping abused people. You can call them at 507/285-1010. Someone will answer the phone 24 hours a day and they will accept collect calls. The Women's Shelter can provide women who are being abused with support, a secure place to stay, emergency transportation, no cost services even for those who do not stay in the shelter, counseling for you and your children, and information about financial assistance, court remedies and legal representation. The Women's Shelter can also offer some of these services to men who are being abused.
Who will pay the bills if I leave? In some situations, you may ask the court to order the abuser to pay certain debts. However, even if the court orders the abuser to pay a debt, you are still legally responsible for the debt if the abuser does not pay it and your name is on the bill. There are a number of groups in Olmsted County that work with people in need. The staff at the Women's Shelter will work with you to help you find a way to meet your needs.
I don't want to be married anymore. Can my spouse deny me a divorce? No. Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state. Grounds for a divorce exist if one of the spouses believes that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. In other words, if one spouse believes that there is no hope that the marriage can be saved, the court will grant a divorce. In Minnesota, this proceeding is called a dissolution of marriage. You can act on your own to get a divorce, but you should talk to an attorney to learn about what is the best plan for you.
We have children. Can I legally leave the state with the kids? If the other parent has parental rights such as custody or visitation, you cannot move the kids out of state without an agreement or the court's permission. Any action that deprives the other parent of their parental rights can be a crime. There are legal ways to obtain court permission to leave the state with the children. In rare cases, the court has allowed persons who are in extreme danger to leave the state without disclosing where they are moving. You should talk to an attorney about your options.
The abuser is going to tell the court bad things that I have done in the past. Will these things prevent me from getting custody of my kids? Past conduct is not relevant if it did not or does not affect your children. In determining custody in Minnesota, the court considers the best interests of the child. The court must consider the following 13 factors to determine the best interests of the child:
1. The wishes of the child's parent or parents.
The abuser has threatened to have me declared an unfit parent and have the kids taken from me. Can this happen? Termination of parental rights does not occur very often and it never happens without a lengthy investigation by the Department of Social Services. It is illegal for a person to make a false allegation for the purpose of influencing a custody determination. When someone calls Social Services and reports maltreatment of your child, Social Services may or may not put your child in temporary foster care. It depends on whether Social Services believes the child is in imminent danger and whether immediate intervention is needed. At this point, even if your child is placed in foster care, you are still the legal parent. Next, Social Services interviews the child, you, and other people who know your family. After the interviews, Social Services decides whether or not maltreatment has occurred and whether or not protective services are needed. If Social Services determines that protective services are needed, they will put together a plan for you to follow. If Social Services does become involved with your family, it does not mean you will lose your kids. Social Services is required to try to keep you and your children together. Termination of parental rights only occurs if Social Services believes you will not become a better parent. You have the right to contest a termination of parental rights and you have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout this process.
The person bothering me is not a family or household member. Can I get any legal protection? Yes. You may seek a harassment restraining order from the court. Unlike an OFP, the harasser does not have to be a family or household member in order to receive court relief. Harassment restraining order packets may be obtained from the Olmsted County Courthouse. There is a $132.00 filing fee. If you are unable to afford the fee, you can ask that it be waived. If a harassment restraining order is granted, the court may order the person to refrain from doing unwanted acts or saying words or making gestures intended to harm your safety, security or privacy.
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