We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we have been stuck at home for months with our partners, children and families. But, just because we are dealing with unprecedented times, doesn’t mean that there is no relief available for people who feel unsafe. If you are living in an environment that has caused you to fear for your safety, or are being stalked, follow these three easy steps to get immediate protection from the courts in the form of an “Emergency Order of Protection” or a “Stalking No Contact Order”.
- Go to the Courthouse.
Even though most courts are closed right now, you CAN still go to the Domestic Violence Courthouse at 555 W. Harrison Street in Chicago to file a petition for an Emergency Order of Protection. There are two important things to know about going to court to file this petition. First, you CAN bring your children with you to the courthouse if you need to. You will not be turned away from court just because you have your kids with you. Second, the Sheriff has the final say on whether to let you into the building. It is up to the Sheriff to determine whether you and/or your kids are a health risk - if you have symptoms, including a fever, you may be prohibited from entry. However, the Sheriffs generally have been instructed to let people into the building which is not true for the other Cook County courthouses.
- Draft your petition for an “Emergency Order of Protection.”
When you arrive at court, you will fill out a petition form that includes the details of why you believe you need protection from someone. It is important that you list each and every incident that has caused you to fear for your safety in the paperwork. There will be sections for you to write out the details of why you are afraid and the specific areas (such as your home, cars, phone/text contact, etc) that you want to be protected. Be sure to list all the reasons and places you need protection so that the judge will have a clear idea of what you’re asking for.
- Appear in front of a judge.
Once your petition is in writing, it will be filed and you will appear in front of a judge who will decide whether or not to grant your requests. If you do it alone, your appearance can be in person or by videoconference but will happen from inside the courthouse. If you have a lawyer, the lawyer can arrange to do it via video from home or from the courthouse.
The judge will decide on two things, whether to grant you a protection order and what areas will be covered by the order. Again, it is very important that you include everything you want the judge to hear in your written petition, as the judge will make decisions based on what is in your paperwork. If you don’t include certain details, the judge won’t have a full picture of what you’re asking for. The judge will make her decision right then, with you present in person or via video, and sign an order detailing what protections you are getting and when you need to come back to court. Before you leave the courthouse, don’t forget to get your copy of the petition paperwork and court order!
Obtaining an Emergency Order of Protection is only the beginning of the case for your safety. The next steps involve another court appearance and possibly hearings that your lawyer will be present with you for. As soon as you have the court order in hand from your first appearance with the judge, call your lawyer right away. The earlier your lawyer is able to review your petition and order the better they can give you the best possible shot at enforcing your order and keeping you safe. Remember, if you are ever in fear of immediate harm, call 911 right away - don’t wait until it’s too late.