According to the U.S. Department of Justice, each year, 4.5 million women in the United States are victims of domestic violence. One in three women will be the victim of a domestic violence assault or rape in her lifetime. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, and the remaining 15 percent is divided between children and men. Every day, three women, on average, are murdered by their current or former spouses or boyfriends. A restraining order, or Order of Protection, is an order issued by a civil judge or magistrate to help keep you safe after there has been an incident of domestic violence against you. It can keep your abuser from contacting you and those closest to you, and may require your abuser to turn in any weapons in his possession. There is no cost for filing, and it may save your life.
Obtain an Emergency Order of Protection. If you are in immediate danger, contact a law enforcement officer to help you obtain an Emergency Order of Protection. This temporary order is only valid until the close of business on the day after it is issued. Its purpose is to give you time to get a "permanent" Order of Protection through your local courthouse. Arizona counties with populations over 150,000 people are required to issue Emergency Orders of Protection after hours by phone when necessary. Smaller counties are not required to do so, but many do.
Go to court. As soon as possible, go to the courthouse nearest to you (see Resources below) and ask the clerk for a Petition for an Order of Protection. You can visit a justice or municipal court in most cases, but if you have recently filed for paternity, maternity, annulment or divorce, you will need to go to your county's Superior Court. Tell the clerk if there are any past or current court proceedings between you and your abuser. This includes prior Orders of Protection, divorce or custody proceedings.
Provide identification. Bring your own photo ID or driver's license for identification purposes. In addition, if possible, bring a photo of your abuser, your abuser's home and/or work address, his phone number(s), your abuser's license plate or vehicle description, and any information you have on your abuser's history of drugs or gun ownership.
Complete the forms. The courthouse clerk will provide you with all of the paperwork you will need. On these forms, you will be asked to describe the most recent incident of domestic violence. Be very specific when answering these questions. You will be asked why you need an Order of Protection. Write down any incidents you can think of within the past year. You can also write down incidents that happened prior to the past year, but a judge may or may not consider these events in issuing an Order of Protection. If your abuser has been incarcerated over all or part of the last year, the judge will most likely consider prior violence. Again, be specific about any incidents that occurred, including dates, when possible. Tell the clerk if you would like your personal contact information to remain confidential. Once you have completed the forms, give them to the clerk. There is no charge for this service.
Attend the ex parte hearing. You will be asked to appear before a judge to give a sworn statement about the information on your petition. In most cases, a judge will decide at that time whether or not to issue an Order of Protection. In some instances, the judge may need more information. If this occurs, you will be asked to attend another hearing within 10 days. Your abuser has a right to attend this hearing, if the judge deems it necessary. Once an Order of Protection is issued, it is good for one year. This is true even when the order is modified within that year.
Allow the order to be served. An Order of Protection is not enforceable until your abuser is served with the paperwork. If you filed for the Order of Protection in a municipal or justice court and your abuser lives within city limits, city police will usually serve the order. Otherwise, the county sheriff's office can provide service, or you can hire someone else to do it.
Attend the contested hearing, if one is called. Once your abuser has been served, he does have a right to a court hearing to tell his side of the story. If your abuser requests a hearing, you must attend or the Order of Protection will be dismissed. You will be asked questions similar to those when the Order of Protection was granted, including why the order is necessary and what violent or threatening situations occurred in the last year.
- Don't be afraid to seek assistance from a domestic violence advocate or an attorney. Resources are available below. If you attend the hearing and your abuser has an attorney, but you do not, you can request a continuance so that you, too, can find representation.