DO YOU FEEL UNSAFE?  The breakup of a family, no matter how civil or calm, can be tense and stressful for all its members.  People who have behaved rationally in the past may not do so during this time, and family members should not be surprised by behavior indicating pent up anger, frustration, even rage. If a family offense is committed, you need help; if a family offense is likely, you may need help.

A family offense is a crime committed against someone with whom the perpetrator has an intimate relationship. It is not up to you to figure out the legalities of this – was what my partner did a crime? Is what I’m afraid of a crime? It is up to you, if you feel unsafe, to tell your lawyer or otherwise take care.


There are resources to assist families at risk of a family offense, including:

  • local police (telephone numbers vary by city and town),
  • Grace Smith House (tel. 845 452 2715),
  • House of Faith/House of Hope (tel. 845 765 0294)
  • Domestic Violence Hotline (tel. 845 485 5550)
  • Child Abuse Hotline (toll-free 800 342 3720)
  • private counselors and therapists, and
  • the courts

Should you feel that you need the protection of the courts (professionals may send you there), the Dutchess County Family Court is equipped with the right resources to help. Grace Smith House provides a worker who is located on the second floor of the Dutchess County Family Court building at 50 Market Street in Poughkeepsie who will actually draft the family offense petition based upon your input.  This worker will walk you through the process until you are sent up to the third floor to be seen by a Judge or Referee. It is always best to get to the courthouse either first thing in the morning at 8:45 a.m. in order to be seen before lunch, or 1:45 p.m. in order to be seen that day.

The Judge or Referee who hears your case will want to know in your own words what is happening that makes you feel unsafe.  Based upon this information, the Judge or Referee will issue a Temporary Order of Protection (the relief most often granted under a family offense petition) if he or she feels that you are in harm’s way.  The Temporary Order of Protection can grant complete or limited relief ranging from a 1,000 foot “full stay away” order or a “refrain from harassment” order.  The Order can have your family member removed from the home, or merely ordered to “be good”, forbidding the perpetrator from misbehaving toward the person filing the petition.  It is important that before you enter the courtroom, you know what type of relief you believe will be necessary for your own safety.  You should feel free to tell that to the Judge or Referee hearing your case.

Once you have been issued the Temporary Order of Protection, make sure that your local police department has a copy of it and that you keep a copy with you at all times.  It is the responsibility of the local police department or sheriff to serve the order upon the family member whose behavior is governed by the Temporary Order of Protection.  You will be given another court date to return to court and you will be required to return to court every three to six weeks until the matter is resolved, either by settlement, withdrawal of the petition or trial.

While it is uncomfortable to enter into the legal process unrepresented, it is sometimes faster to go directly to the Dutchess County Family Court for the initial emergency order, to expedite the process.  If we feel a client’s safety is at risk, we either go with or prepare our client to go directly to the Family Court to get immediate assistance.  You should feel assured that the Court will hear you and protect you during this time and you should not hesitate to use this resource if you feel unsafe.