In the recent case of S.C. v. G.C. (decided May 11, 2022), the Supreme Court recognized that, as many victims of domestic violence have contact with the defendant after the alleged abuse has occurred, that fact, standing alone, does not warrant the dismissal of the domestic violence petition.
In S.C., the victim, in July of 2020, filed a domestic violence petition against the defendant alleging she was the victim of domestic assault. She also filed a petition for divorce against the defendant. Several months later, the Court had not issued a final order on her domestic violence petition. The victim then filed an emergency motion to bar contact between herself and the defendant. The Court ultimately denied the motion but allowed the parties to have child focused communications between each other.
In February of 2021, again with no final order being issued on the July 2020 petition, the victim filed a second domestic violence petition alleging she was still being threatened by the defendant. The Court denied the second petition stating that, because she had engaged in contact with the defendant that was outside of the previously allowed child focused communications, she could not show credible fear of harm. In particular, the victim allegedly returned to the abuser’s home during the time she claimed some of the abusive acts occurred.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court decision. Aside from being critical of its failure to conduct a hearing on the July 2020 domestic violence petition, the Supreme Court, after reviewing the literature on the subject, noted that it was not uncommon for victims to reach out to the abuser even after an emergency order of protection has been granted. The reasons are many, including shared children, the need for financial support, etc. Given this, the Supreme Court stated that, standing alone, post petition contact with between the victim and the defendant is not a basis to deny a domestic violence final order of protection.
S.C. is an important decision in the area of domestic violence in that it clarifies, to a certain degree, the evidence that can be used in responding to such a claim. The important questions that now need to be explored is how much contact the victim had with the accused after the temporary order of protection was issued, and why the victim initiated the contact. Counsel must be ready to address these issues at a final hearing, as they are critical for a court to determine whether the victim can show they have a credible fear for their safety.