Many people confuse the two, but there are legal differences between no-contact and restraining orders. Both are protective in nature and governed by the state in which you live. The filing costs, the timing of the order and the consequences for violating it can differ a little or a lot. When you’re contemplating obtaining a no-contact or restraining order, your options may depend on whether you fear for your safety or you need to protect your rights during a divorce. Violation of restraining orders can result in arrest and contempt of court charges.
No-contact orders arise from criminal, rather than civil law. They prohibit the defendant in a domestic abuse case, or facing other serious charges, from having any contact at all with the victim of the alleged crime. A prosecutor or law enforcement official files a no-contact order with the court. The order is designed to protect a victim from further harm or intimidation. Criminal charges usually must be filed or pending before a judge will grant a no-contact order against someone.
Unlike many restraining orders, there is no cost to the victim for seeking a no-contact order. The order may last as long as the defendant is awaiting trial or sentencing. No contact excludes attempts to communicate via text, written notes or other methods of communication. The no-contact order continues even after the defendant’s conviction and subsequent release from custody if it is made a condition of sentencing. Persons who violate no-contact orders are subject to immediate arrest.
Restraining orders are identified by some states as protective orders, anti-harassment orders or stay away orders. Rather than punishing a person for behavior that’s already occurred, as is the case with a no-contact order, restraining orders seek to protect a person from future physical, emotional or material harm by a third party. In some states, including California, restraining orders are issued automatically when someone files for divorce to prevent either party from selling marital assets, violating temporary custody schedules or taking other actions that may negatively affect the terms of the divorce.
Court fees for restraining orders vary by state and jurisdiction and are paid by the person who files the request. The court reviews the paperwork that documents why a restraining order is necessary and can then grant a temporary restraining order that’s in effect until a hearing is held. The hearing is usually scheduled about 14 days from the time the temporary order goes into effect. Both parties appear before the judge at that time to plead their case, and the judge can order a more permanent restraining order after the hearing.
Restraining orders can be tailored to meet the circumstances of the complaint. They can bar a person from coming within a certain distance or generally warn a stalker not to engage in threatening or harassing behavior. Washington State law allows persons who are seriously annoyed, alarmed or harassed by someone's conduct to obtain relief by filing an anti-harassment petition in court. If granted by a judge, the anti-harassment order prevents the harasser from coming within a certain distance of your workplace, school or home, and can also ban any and all contact.