Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or harassment often flee their homes in search of safety only to end up wondering how to file a restraining order across state lines. Fortunately, it might be easier than you think – for two reasons.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
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.
The Violence Against Women Act
Congress passed a federal law in 1996 that makes it a felony to cross state lines to “kill, injure, or harass” a person, his significant other or his family. This interstate stalking law was part of the Violence Against Women Act and was updated in 2013 to include 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. The DOJ recommends keeping a written record of the dates and times the person harassed you and contact information for any witnesses.
Evidence Needed for Interstate Restraining Orders
The more evidence you have, such as medical reports, pictures of injuries, voicemails, texts and tapes of 911 calls, the better your chances of succeeding in getting a restraining order, but you can still obtain one without these 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 simply saying, “He threatened to kill me.”
Serving an Interstate Restraining Order
The process of obtaining a restraining order varies from one jurisdiction to another, but the person who needs protection must typically ask a court clerk for the proper forms, then fill them out and sign them in front of the clerk. The clerk will sign the forms and give them to the judge.
You must serve a copy of the forms on the person from whom you need protection if the judge grants your restraining order. Some states allow you to serve the person via certified mail if he lives in another state, which involves the recipient signing for it and confirming receipt. Alternatively, you can ask a sheriff from the offender’s law enforcement department to serve the restraining order.
You don't have to create a new one if you already have a restraining order when you move states. You can simply have register your existing order with your new circuit court or local police department to get it onto your new state's record and make it legally enforceable. Take a certified copy of the order to the court or police department. This is the case for temporary restraining orders as well as permanent restraining orders.
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 that state's law.
How Victims can Protect Themselves
A domestic violence victim can protect herself by going directly to the local police department to notify law enforcement of where she's going before leaving an area. Many acts of domestic violence occur at night when the court isn't open, leaving victims at risk when they need to restraining orders the most.
If you need additional help filing a restraining order across state lines, contact your local courthouse or an attorney. Many offer free consultations.