If you have been harmed by a spouse or member of your household (former or present), or you have a reasonable fear that this person will cause you harm, you may wish to obtain a restraining order. Also known as a protective order, these legal devices are intended to protect a victim of domestic violence from further abuse, harassment, or physical harm. Restraining orders also apply to individuals that the victim has dated, even if they never shared a household.
A restraining order generally prohibits the abuser from having any contact with the victim, whether physical or via phone, email, or any other means of communication. Restraining orders may also prohibit the abuser from being present in certain locations, including the victim’s place of work or home. This restriction may even apply if the abuser owns or is co-owner of the home.
What Behaviors Justify a Restraining Order?
If a family member, household member, or former intimate partner commits any of the following acts against you, a restraining order may protect you from further harm:
- Sexual assault
- False imprisonment
- Attempted murder
How to Obtain a Restraining Order
When you request a restraining order, you are essentially asking the judge to limit an individual’s personal freedom. As such, it is essential to prove to the court that the request is justified.
The process of obtaining a protective order involves paperwork, your presence at a court hearing, and then waiting for a final decision from the judge. In order to improve your chance of success, it is in your best interest to consult with a local attorney who has extensive experience in cases involving domestic abuse.
To prove that a restraining order is necessary for your protection, you will want to show that your abuser is acting in a threatening manner, and that the only way to stop this behavior is to order him/her to remain a certain distance from you at all times. Without proof that this threatening behavior is happening, most courts won’t issue an order to stop it.
The Devil is in the Details
By describing specific incidents in detail, you increase the likelihood that your request for a protective order will be approved. Start by listing any threatening, intimidating, or harmful behaviors that you hope to end by obtaining the restraining order. The more detailed the better. For example, instead of saying, “He stalks me all the time,” say, “Every Wednesday night when I work late, he is waiting outside when I leave and he follows me home.” And be prepared to show tangible evidence to prove your claim. For example, in the scenario above, taking a picture of his car in the parking lot when you leave work at night will be more compelling than your word alone.
If you are planning to obtain a protective order against someone, document everything, and gather as much evidence as possible. Save texts, voice messages, and emails; take pictures, and get witness testimony when possible.
How a Restraining Order Works
If a judge approves an Order of Protection, your abuser will be required to obey any orders stated within. Restraining orders vary widely from case to case, but they often:
- Limit or restrict contact with you and/or others in your family, whether in person or by phone, email, or via any other mode of communication.
- Require the abuser to leave the residence they share with you, even if it is the abuser’s own home.
In cases involving a restraining order, the judge will likely grant you custody of any minor children shared with the abuser. In some cases, the abuser may be granted visitation rights. The judge may also demand that the abuser cover all costs related to the abuse, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and urgent household bills.
Your abuser may also be ordered to pay your attorney’s fees and compensate you for damages suffered as a result of the harmful or threatening behavior. The judge will likely order the abuser to enter a rehabilitation program or begin therapy. As long as you are in agreement, the judge has the ability to tailor the restraining order in any way he/she sees fit to ensure your protection; it can be as simple or as complex as needed.
When necessary, police can physically remove the abuser from your home, or accompany the abuser to the shared home so that you are protected while he/she removes any personal belongings.
Time is of the Essence
Regardless of the severity or type of abuse you are enduring, it is in your best interest to work with a family law attorney if you wish to get a restraining order against someone. Proving that your abuser is engaging in threatening or dangerous behavior is not always easy, but when your safety is on the line, there is no time to waste.