When one person is abusing another, a court order can restrain the abuser and protect the victim. In California, courts can issue different types of civil restraining orders depending on the circumstances. The underlying purpose for all of them is to protect a victim of abuse.
Although California has a simplified process for obtaining restraining orders, it's a good idea to get familiar with what you have to do to get one issued before it becomes necessary.
Restraining Orders in California
Some jurisdictions distinguish between restraining orders and protective orders. But in California courts, the terms are considered synonymous. A restraining or protective order is an order issued by a civil court that prevents someone from being physically or sexually abused, threatened, stalked or harassed.
The law refers to the person getting the order as the “protected person.” The “restrained person” is the person against whom the order is issued. If you are the protected person, you can ask that the restraining order list additional “protected persons” like children or others in the household.
Read More: Forms to File in California for a Dropped Restraining Order
Reasons for California Protective Orders
California protective orders can restrain behavior in different ways. For the person to be restrained, the order can have serious consequences. Any violation of the orders can result in jail time and/or fines.
Typical restraining orders in California fall into three general categories, which include:
- Restraining the abuser from doing specific acts like verbally abusing, attacking, stalking, harassing or threatening the protected person.
- Ordering the abuser to stay away from a particular location like the home, workplace or vehicle of the protected person or the schools of her children.
- Ordering the abuser to move out of the residence of the protected person in a case involving domestic abuse, elder abuse or dependent adult abuse.
Types of Orders California Courts Can Issue
Courts in California generally issue four different types of restraining orders, which include:
- Domestic violence restraining orders.
- Elder or dependent adult abuse restraining orders.
- Civil harassment restraining orders.
- Workplace violence restraining orders.
However, California judicial districts may each have their own orders. You need to check with your own court system to see what is available. In Sacramento courts, for example, the list includes:
- Emergency protective orders, which protect you from immediate threats and are available at any time of the day or night from the court or the police.
- Domestic violence restraining orders, which protect you from anyone you are or were married to or dating, the other parent of your child, relatives or anyone living in your home on a regular basis.
- Elder or dependent adult abuse restraining orders, which protect seniors as well as dependent adults from abuse by a caregiver.
- Civil harassment restraining orders, which protect you against harassment by someone with whom you don't have a close relationship (the kind of relationship necessary for a domestic violence restraining order) like a co-worker or neighbor.
- Workplace violence restraining orders, which protect employees but must be requested by an employer.
- Private postsecondary school violence restraining orders, which protect students in a private postsecondary school and must be requested by an officer or administrator.
- Gun violence restraining orders, which protect someone who poses a significant danger of personal injury to himself from getting a gun, and must be requested by an immediate family member or law enforcement agency.
Getting a Temporary Restraining Order
In many courts in California, including San Francisco, San Jose and other courts in the Greater Bay Area, requesting a restraining order is a two-stage process. The first step is getting a temporary restraining order, or TRO.
If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911 and get this type of order from law enforcement. Otherwise, you can apply for a TRO at Family Court based on your testimony. You can get this order "ex parte," which means that you do not have to tell the person to be restrained before you get it if you fear that you may be subject to harm or violence.
Applying for a Permanent Protective Order
A TRO lasts for a limited period of time. The court will schedule a hearing for a permanent restraining order at the time it grants the TRO. You need to fill out the forms for the order and present supporting evidence. You aren't obligated to use an attorney to seek a protective order, but you might want to. The process of applying for a protective order can seem overwhelming when you feel you or your family is in danger.
If you decide to apply on your own, you need to get the forms from your court. Often these are organized in packets containing all the forms you need as well as instructions. One of the forms will be a declaration where you write the details of the incidents of abuse on which your application for a restraining order is based.
You file these with the court then have the sheriff's office serve them on the other person. You will also need to fill out a Law Enforcement Supplemental Information form providing information to identify and locate the person to be restrained. This information helps the police to enforce your restraining order.
Court Hearing on a Permanent Protective Order
You must appear at the court-ordered hearing on the permanent protective order. If you come with an attorney, they will advise what to bring with you. If you aren't represented, bring along any evidence you can find that establishes that you were threatened or injured by the person to be restrained. This might include:
- Any police reports that discuss the person's violence toward you.
- Records of 911 calls about domestic disputes.
- Any witnesses (live testimony or sworn declarations) who heard any of the threats or abuse.
- Any doctor or hospital records documenting incidents of violence.
- Any agency records about this person's abuse of your children.
You won't have to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the order is required to protect you. You only have to produce convincing evidence suggesting that you were threatened or injured and require protection. If the court awards a permanent protective order, it actually only lasts for a set period of time, often one year, but can be renewed if necessary.
Getting Help Filing for a Protective Order
Most California cities or counties offer restraining order self-help clinics, shelters or legal-aid agencies that assist people who wish to ask for domestic violence restraining orders, elder or dependent adult abuse restraining orders and in some cases, civil harassment orders.
In addition, most courts in California offer help for those who wish to seek a restraining order. The courts can also point you to organizations that offer free or low-cost assistance. Check with your court's family law facilitator and its self-help center and ask about other help they offer.
For example, in San Francisco, the ACCESS center located in the court building helps you find and fill out the forms you need to apply for a restraining order. And Sacramento courts offer free, full-day domestic abuse restraining order workshops in the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse. Just show up since admittance is on a first come, first served basis.
If you feel threatened by someone, you may be able to get a temporary restraining order the same day you or a police officer files the request with the court. In order to get a permanent protective order however, you will need to attend a court hearing and present evidence of the other person posing a danger to you.
- California Courts: Restraining Orders
- California Superior Court San Francisco: Self-Help, Retaining Orders
- Judicial Council of California: Domestic Violence Self-Help
- Sacramento DA: Restraining Order
- Judicial Council of California: Abuse and Harrassment
- Legal Sectaries, Inc: Sacramento - Restraining Orders
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.