If you are being threatened, you have the right to apply for a restraining order. Use this guide to learn about the process and restraining order requirements.
If you are a victim of stalking, harassment, domestic violence or sexual assault, filing a restraining order will get a court involved in your situation. While the law may vary in different states, you can generally apply for a restraining order with the court in the county where your potential abuser lives.
Restraining Order Guidelines
A restraining order, also called a protective order, is a legal order issued by a court requiring a person who is a threat to stay away from you or risk arrest. Restraining order requirements and procedures vary from state to state, but all restraining orders are issued to stop another person from harming or harassing you. In general, a protective order permits a court to order your abuser, at a minimum, to stay away from you, your home, your workplace or your school and to stop contacting you. In addition, victims can ask the court to order that all contact be ceased, whether by telephone, notes, mail, fax, email, or delivery of flowers or gifts.
Types of Restraining Orders
There are usually different types of restraining orders for different situations. In California, for example, there are four different kinds of orders. A Domestic Violence Restraining Order is for people in a domestic relationship, including divorced and separated couples, where that person has already abused you and may do so again. A Civil Harassment Restraining Order is for anyone who is being harassed, threatened or stalked by anyone outside of a domestic partnership, including other relatives, neighbors and strangers. An Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse Restraining Order is for those over 65, or those with disabilities, who have been victims of physical or financial abuse or neglect from a caregiver. A Workplace Violence Restraining Order is for employers who want to protect an employee who is being threatened at the workplace.
Where To File
Where you file a restraining order depends on state laws and the type of order you are applying for. Generally, to file for your protective restraining order, you must go to the courthouse in the county where your abuser lives and fill out an application for a restraining order to be issued. There is usually no fee for the order, and there should be someone there who will help you with the paperwork. Make sure to bring some identification with you, like a driver's license, birth certificate or passport, preferably with a photo.
What Happens After Filing
After filing your application for a protective order, a date will be scheduled before a judge to consider your request. The hearing is usually scheduled in a matter of days or weeks. You will likely appear before the judge without the presence of the accused, so be prepared to tell your story in as much detail as you can. The judge will ask some questions of you to determine the merit of your request, and once your application is approved, a temporary restraining order will be issued, and a copy of the order will be delivered to your abuser by a sheriff or an agent designated to do so,. In most states, serving the order is free. You may not deliver your own order. The server of the paperwork will provide you with a copy of the service document, verifying that the abuser received the order.
Only when the person has been officially served may he be punished for violating the order. Stay away from places where you might encounter the person until such time as he has been warned of the consequences of continuing to be near you. After the abuser is served with the order, a hearing date will be scheduled, usually within 10 days to two weeks of your initial application, to determine whether to prolong or lift the order.
What Happens At The Hearing
At your hearing, the judge will listen to both parties. The accused does have the right to be present to state her side. Both you and the accused have a right to appear before the judge with or without a lawyer. If the judge decides the situation warrants it, she can issue the restraining order for a suitable time-period, sometimes up to one or two years.
What Happens After The Hearing
Once you are granted your protective order, you will be in a position to make decisions about how you want to resolve the incident or incidents that created the abusive situation to begin with. Most such incidents result in a divorce, criminal charges or other measures you need to take to protect yourself from further harm. If the conflict is not resolved within the period that the protective order covers, you have the option to renew it, if necessary. In the meantime, you should keep a certified copy of the order on your person at all times in case the abuser violates the order and you need call police for help.
An Added Warning
With or without a current restraining order, call 911 to protect yourself and your loved ones if you feel you are in immediate danger of harm from another.