How to File a Restraining Order Across State Lines

By Miranda Miller - Updated March 23, 2018

Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or harassment often flee their home in search of safety elsewhere only to wind up wondering how to file a restraining order across state lines. Fortunately, it may be easier than you think, for two reasons.

Tip

If someone assaulted you, broke into your home, damaged property or stole something, you should report these crimes to your local police department because they can be prosecuted on top of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and harassment.

Reason #1: Congress Passed an Interstate Stalking Law

In 1996, Congress passed a federal law that makes it a felony to cross state lines to “kill, injure, or harass” a person, his or her significant other or the person’s family. In 2013, this interstate stalking law, part of the Violence Against Women Act, was updated to add intimidation and cyberstalking. Anyone who breaks this law while a restraining order is in effect faces greater punishment, according to the United States Department of Justice, who recommends writing down dates and times the person harassed you and contact information for any witnesses.

Reason #2: A Judge Made It Easier to Get a Restraining Order

These days, judges tend to grant restraining orders to save their own career, attorney David Heleniak wrote in “Erring on the Side of Hidden Harm: The Granting of Domestic Violence Restraining Orders.” This better-safe-than-sorry philosophy stems from 2005, when a judge dismissed Yvette Cade’s assault case against her husband and refused to give her a protective order. A month later, Cade's husband walked into her place of employment, drenched her with gasoline and lit a match, resulting in third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Two weeks later, all domestic violence cases were removed from the judge’s docket, and he was placed on administrative duty. Ten months after the attack, former prosecutor and CNN commentator Nancy Grace interviewed the victim and a congressman who said the judge should retire. Two weeks after that, he did – before a judicial misconduct hearing could be held.

How to Obtain and Serve a Restraining Order Across State Lines

The process to obtain a restraining order varies from one jurisdiction to another, but typically, the person who needs protection asks a court clerk for the proper forms, fills them out and signs them in front of the clerk, who signs the forms as a notary public and gives them to the judge. If the judge grants your restraining order, you need to serve it on the person from whom you need protection. If the person lives in another state, some states allow you to serve the person via certified mail, so the recipient signs for it, confirming receipt. Alternatively, you can ask a sheriff from the offender’s police department to serve the restraining order.

If you don’t know where your stalker, harasser or cyberbully lives, talk to your court clerk about serving your protection order by mailing it to the person’s last-known address and publishing the summons you received when you filed your forms in the offender's local newspaper. States differ on requirements regarding where the summons must be published, so be sure to check your state's law.

Evidence Needed to File a Restraining Order Against Someone in Another State

The more evidence, such as medical reports, pictures of injuries, voicemails, texts and tapes of 911 calls, you have, the better your chances of succeeding in getting a restraining order, but you can still obtain one without those things. The key lies in conveying why you’re afraid by providing specific details, such as the exact words the perpetrator used. Don’t paraphrase by saying, “He threatened to kill me.”

Unlike the judge who played a part in scarring a woman for life in 2005, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are prompting people to be more helpful. If you need help filing a restraining order across state lines, contact your local courthouse or an attorney. Many offer free consultations.

About the Author

Miranda is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and editor.

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