Can I File a Restraining Order for Texting Abuse?

By Jennifer Mueller - Updated March 15, 2018
Woman looking at text messages on her smart phone

In 2017, a man in Wailuku, Hawaii was ordered to pay $2,400 in fines and write 144 compliments about his ex-girlfriend, according to the Maui News. This was the judge's ruling on the ex-girlfriend's petition for a restraining order, which she sought after the man's repeated "nasty" text messages.

Earlier in the same year, recording artist Chris Brown was slapped with a restraining order after his ex-girlfriend filed a petition alleging the entertainer had sent her text messages threatening physical abuse. The ex-girlfriend also testified that Brown had physically abused her before, according to TMZ.

Tip

In most states, abusive text messages are enough to justify a restraining order. Some may require evidence of some history of abuse similar to that threatened in the messages. Typically, it's enough to show that you felt your safety was threatened.

Preserving Evidence

When you receive a frightening or disgusting text message, your impulse may be to delete it. If you're thinking about requesting a restraining order against the sender, however, this is the last thing you want to do. This is especially true if you didn't have a previous romantic or familial relationship with the person. In many states, to get a restraining order for harassment, you must be able to show a pattern of abusive communication. That typically requires more than one or two messages.

If you feel that you or your loved ones are in immediate danger from the person sending messages, call the police as soon as possible. Show the messages to the police officer and file a report. Most police departments have forms you can fill out right there to get an emergency restraining order, which can buy you time to get to court. This can be particularly valuable if you feel threatened and it's an evening or weekend, when courts aren't open.

Filing Appropriate Forms

If you go to the clerk's office of your county courthouse, you can get forms to fill out to request a restraining order. You also may be able to download and fill out these forms online, so you don't have to hang around at the courthouse filling them out. Just search for your county's court with "restraining order" or "protective order" and see what pages come up. Domestic violence shelters and victim's advocate groups also typically have local forms.

When you've completed the forms, give them to the clerk. She'll make copies for you and stamp everything as filed. You'll need two copies of the filed forms: one for your own records and one to deliver to the person you want the court to restrain. Most courts don't charge any filing fees for a request for a restraining order.

Serving the Restrained Person

When a court issues a restraining order, it places limits on the freedom of the person restrained. For that reason, he has the right to appear in court and speak in his own defense, to tell his side of the story.

This means you have to get a copy of the court papers you filed to the person you want restrained. Normally, you would get a sheriff's deputy to deliver the papers to the person at her home or place of work. If it's someone you've had a previous relationship with, you likely know a few places where she might be found. But there may be times when you have no idea. It could be someone you met online, or someone you started texting through a dating app. In these cases, it can be tricky, and your state's law may not have caught up with technology.

If you have any information at all about the person, give it to the police or to a sheriff's deputy. They may be able to track down an address for the person if, for example, you can give them a phone number. You can also talk to a victim's advocate, who may have access to resources that can help you.

If you can't serve the person by the date of the hearing, show up to the hearing anyway. Tell the judge the efforts you've made to have the person served. She'll give you some suggestions and may be able to postpone the hearing or provide you additional protections.

Attending Your Court Hearing

Assuming you have managed to serve the person you want restrained, you still must show up in court for the hearing before the judge if you want your restraining order. If you don't show up to court, the judge will not issue the restraining order.

Understand thaat the person you want restrained is likely to be there. He's also likely to make nasty comments towards you, or be threatening or menacing. Victim's advocates and attorneys volunteer to go to court with people who seek restraining orders for this very reason. You are also free to bring friends and family with you for moral support. Surround yourself with an army of loved ones, so he has no way to get to you.

The judge will ask you some questions about your petition. You can present evidence, and may even be able to call witnesses to testify on your behalf. Just keep in mind that the person you want restrained will have a chance to speak in court as well, and what he has to say might not be all that pleasant. Keep your composure, and avoid saying anything directly to him. Speak only to the judge, and trust the judge to maintain decorum in the courtroom.

If the judge agrees to issue the restraining order, the person will be prohibited from texting you or otherwise contacting you for several years. The length of time varies among states. If you continue to get harassing texts from the person, he is subject to immediate arrest.

About the Author

Jennifer Mueller has a J.D. from the University of Indiana, Maurer School of Law. She has been sharing her legal knowledge on the internet since 2009.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article