Domestic Violence Protections in North Carolina Extend to Unmarried Same-Sex Couples

Domestic Violence Protections in North Carolina Extend to Unmarried Same-Sex Couples

On December 31, 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that unmarried same-sex couples could no longer be excluded from the state’s domestic violence protections.

Chapter 50B of the North Carolina statute is one of our state’s toughest laws created in the fight to protect survivors of domestic violence. Through it, survivors can request a domestic violence protective order (DVPO). A DVPO is a civil no-contact order but a violation of the order is a criminal offense. If violated, the abuser could be convicted of a misdemeanor, and continued misdemeanor convictions for violating the order could lead to a felony charge.

In addition to ordering no contact between the abuser and survivor, a DVPO can also award the petitioner possession of a primary residence, car, and other property like pets. It can also order temporary custody of any children the parties may share and restrict the abuser’s access to firearms.

Prior to December 31, not all persons experiencing domestic violence could qualify to obtain a DVPO.  As the statute is written, DVPOs only apply to individuals in specific circumstances. Specifically, the parties must be or have been involved in a personal relationship. The definition of a personal relationship includes (among others) current or former spouses, individuals of the opposite sex who are dating or who have dated in the past, individuals of the opposite sex who live together or who have lived together, people with a child in common, and current or former household members.

After the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, a person involved in a same-sex marriage could request and obtain a DVPO. However, a person involved in a same-sex dating relationship still could not obtain a DVPO unless they had a child in common or a judge deemed they were current or former household members. This left a significant portion of the population unprotected.

In M.E. vs. T.J., the NC Court of Appeals struck down the “opposite sex” language of the statute. In that case, M.E. was involved in a domestic violence relationship and tried to seek protection in 2018. Despite alleging significant threatening behavior, the judge dismissed M.E.’s request for a DVPO because her partner was also a woman. Instead, the judge granted her request for a 50C no contact order, which does not carry the same legal weight as a DVPO. M.E. appealed the decision, alleging the statute, as written, is unconstitutional. Thankfully, the NC Court of Appeals agreed with her. Moving forward, the “same-sex” or “opposite-sex” nature of the dating relationship will no longer be a factor in deciding whether to grant or deny a DVPO.

If you are involved or have been involved in a relationship with intimate partner violence, you don’t have to feel stuck or alone. Our attorneys have over 30 years of combined experience representing clients in domestic violence cases and cases involving child abuse or neglect. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about your rights.

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