Twenty people a day walk into the Montgomery County Courthouse in a desperate search for help to get out of a violent relationship, according to the sheriff’s office.
Tom Manion, the director of the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, took the News4 I-Team step by step through the process of getting a protective order inside the county courthouse.
TV cameras are rarely allowed in, but Manion explained the judges and the sheriff’s office gave the I-Team special permission, “So we can show people if they are in a situation where they're being abused or they're being hurt, they have a place they can go, they have a place they come to and they can get protection."
“It takes so much courage just to walk in the door, and that's something all the personnel, something we all really understand, something we really respect," Manion added.
After going through security at the courthouse door, take a right turn and head down the hall toward Family Support Services, Manion said.
“But before we get to our ultimate destination, you will see what we call the Kids Spot," he said. "It's a waiting room. You can actually drop your kids off here. You'll notice the door is very secure, the door is locked. It's a very secure area."
You don’t need an appointment and can bring as many kids as needed, Manion said.
Further down the hall, you come to two large glass doors with the words “Family Support Services” overhead.
“You're handed this petition, and someone from the House of Ruth is going to help you fill it out," Manion said. “There's check boxes here what abuse you're saying has happened."
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You can check boxes that include abuse like kicking, punching, choking, slapping, shooting, rape and attempted rape.
“Additional abuse that would make you eligible would be stalking, telephone misuse, things of that nature,” Manion explained. “Things that make you fear for your imminent safety."
There are several pages asking for information, including lines for names and addresses, what type of protection you want and information about other related court cases.
“The court will generally want to know if there are any pending court cases that are going on with the petitioner or the respondent," like a divorce or a custody case, Manion said. “If there are already criminal charges against the person you're seeking protection from, they'll want to know that as well."
And Manion said not to worry if you, the person who is seeking protection, also have a criminal history.
“That's perfectly OK," he said. "Just make sure you note that. It's always best to be very upfront about that information. A judge is never going to say that you aren't deserving of protection from abuse because you may have another criminal matter going on."
Manion then headed to another set of doors next door “where you file it and it gets processed. Once you give this to the person behind the window, you have filed for a civil order of protection. Your petition is confidential information. People cannot see the petition that you've written."
A clerk will then escort you upstairs to the fourth floor and into a courtroom, he said.
"When the judge calls your case, you approach and you have your hearing," he said. "The judge is going to review your petition. They may ask you a couple of questions and at that time they decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to grant you a temporary protective order."
You will have to go back and potentially face your abuser seven days later to get a final protective order, which can last for two years before you need to apply for another one. But the Family Justice Center can provide a free lawyer and the sheriff’s department will be there the entire time to protect you during the proceeding, Manion said.
"No one deserves to be abused physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually,” Manion said. “No one deserves it. You're not alone. There's an entire courthouse and an entire Family Justice Center full of people who are going to help you and guide you through every step of this process so that you can be safe, so your children can be safe, so you can live a life free of abuse."
Reported by Tisha Thompson and shot and edited by Steve Jones.