Under Florida law, the respondent to a Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence, (often referred to as a “restraining order”) is entitled to have the case heard at a return hearing. This return hearing is held before a judge at a bench trial and without a jury. In most jurisdictions, the judge is assigned to the domestic violence division and specifically presides over these types of hearings on a daily basis. Like other forms of bench trials, the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure dictate the procedures of the hearing and the admissibility of evidence.
The presiding judge hears the testimony and reviews the evidence presented by the petitioner and the respondent. It is the judge’s role to weigh the facts and evidence in order to make a determination of whether a permanent injunction should be granted. The judge will rely on the evidence each party presents which may include; their own testimony, witness testimony, photographic and documentary evidence, and any other evidence the court deems admissible and relevant.
Because the presiding judge has had an opportunity to review the allegations in the Temporary Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence, the judge has a familiarity of what the petitioner is relying on as a basis for the request for a permanent injunction. Unlike other bench trials, an opening statement of the case issues by the parties is not usually given. It is the petitioner’s burden to establish that he or she is either a victim of domestic violence or that there is reasonable cause to believe there is imminent danger of the petitioner becoming a victim of domestic violence. In order to attempt to meet that burden, the petitioner presents the case first and should be prepared to introduce all evidence to the court upon which the petition is based.
The respondent will be given an opportunity to cross-examine each of the petitioner’s witnesses and challenge all evidence presented. Additionally, at the conclusion of the petitioner’s case, the respondent will be given an opportunity to present their side of the case and present evidence on what the respondent believes is an accurate representation of the events in question.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge may allow each party to present a closing argument. This closing argument provides the parties one last opportunity to make a persuasive argument as to why a permanent injunction should be granted or why the temporary injunction should be dismissed. In most cases, if the judge finds there is sufficient evidence to make the injunction permanent, the judge will immediately issue his ruling and impose the terms and conditions of a permanent injunction.
The terms and conditions of a permanent injunction can have a serious impact on the daily life of both the petitioner and respondent. The impact can include limitations on contact with their minor children, contact with their spouses, conditions regarding support obligations, conditions regarding court ordered counseling, and other serious sanctions. Because the outcome of a domestic violence hearing can have such an impact on an individual’s life, it is recommended that each party seeks an experienced Florida domestic violence lawyer to represent their best interests before the court.