Sandra W. Reed’s Life Care Planning: Tools to tackle family violence

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your

life planning questions.

Anna Quindlen’s 1998 novel titled Black and Blue paints graphic pictures of the nightmare of that abuse of power that is manifested in domestic violence. The novel illuminates the terror of a young woman who takes her son and runs for her life, afraid her abusive police officer husband will eventually kill her. The story exposes the inadequacy of the protective systems available in this country for victims of domestic violence. The heroine discovers she can run from it but she can’t hide from her husband’s violence.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Family violence is an abuse of power that is exhibited in physical harm of another member of the household. Texas has a statute that makes such abuse a crime. The statute defines domestic violence as an act by a member of a family or household that results or intends to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or a threat that places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault except for self-defense measures.

According to the Texas Department of Human Safety, there were 177,983 reported incidents of family violence in Texas in 2011, the latest year for which that statistical data is available. Nearly 40 percent of these involved violence against a spouse, 16 percent against a child and 44 percent against another family member.

Like a viral infection, domestic abuse knows no boundaries. It affects rich and poor, young and old, men and women, marrieds and singles, heterosexuals and homosexuals.

The Face Of Domestic Violence Among Seniors 

Mature men and women today are exposed to domestic violence in a variety of ways.  Some have seen its ugly head raised from time to time throughout lengthy marriages.  The recently widowed or divorced have encountered it from a dating partner.  Some find it sneaking into from a previously violent-free relationship following trauma or illness.

Jesse’s husband, Jacob, recently suffered a mild stroke. Although Jacob had never exhibited violent tendencies in their 43-year-old marriage, he now daily rages at her with threats to kill her. Last week he socked her in the eye, leaving her with a painful and embarrassing black eye.

Protections Against Domestic Violence

What recourse does a victim of domestic abuse have?  Is the only solution to run away, abandon family and friends and hide where the abuser cannot find and follow? The answer, thankfully is no.

Domestic abuse victims who live in Texas can seek either an emergency or permanent protective order.   However, to activate this protection, Jesse and her counterparts must report to police the abusers actions.

Emergency Protective Order

 If Jesse calls the police after one of Jacob’s violent episodes against her, he may be arrested and sent to jail. If he is, Jesse can ask the officer to issue an emergency protective order designed to prevent Jacob from coming near where she lives or works.  It doesn’t matter that Jacob lives with Jesse. Jacob will be forced to seek living quarters elsewhere. The protective order will also protect Jesse against Jacob’s harassing or threatening her.  It won’t keep him from contacting her. Should Jacob violate an emergency protective order issued against him, he will be arrested.

An emergency protective order is, just as their name implies, issued out of an emergency situation.  However, Jesse would be better advised not to wait for an emergency to arise.  She should seek a regular protective order immediately.

Regular Protective Order

Since Jacob has committed multiple acts of domestic violence since his stroke and Jesse perceives that future occurrences are likely, she can apply to the courts for a protective order to keep her safe. She does not have to wait for an incident resulting in Jacob’s arrest and incarceration as required by the emergency protective order.

The application for a protective order generates no cost to the applicant since its purpose is the applicant’s safety.  The court will set a hearing before a judge two weeks after Jesse applies for the order. Jesse and those standing in her shoes will have the choice of representing themselves or hiring a private attorney to represent them at the hearing.  In some cases, it may be possible to obtain representation by a county or district attorney.

If Jesse believes there is a clear and present danger to her safety, she can ask a judge to issue a temporary ex parte protective order to protect in the interim prior to the hearing. She can ask that the judge order Jacob to vacate her home for her protection pending the hearing.

The regular protective order against Jacob could contain provisions prohibiting him from: (1) committing further family violence; (2) directly or indirectly harassing Jesse; (3) going near her home or place of work or school; (4) possessing a firearm; (5) threatening or harming pets; (6)  coming within 200 yards of her. Jesse and Jacob’s children are grown and live far away, but if children were in the home or close by, the order could prohibit the abuser from going to the children’s school or day care center. The court might include in the protective order a requirement that Jacob attend a counseling program.

Other Sources of Protection

The Family Violence Legal Line (800-374-HOPE) provides free, confidential advice from licensed lawyers to victims of family violence regarding their legal rights. In addition, the staff will assist victim in establishing a safety plan and make referrals to the best local sources for implementing it. The website has a free protective order kit approved by the Texas Supreme Court that victims can download to help file for the order themselves.

Victims may apply to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas and, in certain instances, receive assistance with medical bills, counseling fees, relocation/rent costs, costs of a safe mailing address set-up and child support. The OAG can be contracted at (800) 983-9933 or

Texas Victim Information & Notification Everyday (VINE) will give notification to a victim that an abuser has been released from or transferred from a county jail,  Victims can sign up for this notification that at (877) 894-8463 or

If you have questions about this column or wish to suggest a topic of interest, please contact me by phone at 254-797-0211 or by email at

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an elder law firm in Fort Worth.  She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.



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