How to Get a Restraining Order
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
A restraining order is an important tool to protect yourself from someone who poses a serious or imminent threat to your safety.
This guide reviews how to get a restraining order and what comes next.
A restraining order, also commonly referred to as an order of protection, is a legal order that prevents another person from contacting you in any way. There are many reasons someone might want to get a restraining order against another person. It could be due to a violent history between the two parties, concerns over stalking or domestic abuse or other legitimate legal concerns.
Restraining orders are often the first step victims of domestic abuse take when they're trying to keep an ex-partner out of their life who isn't going away quietly. If the order is violated, it gives the victim and law enforcement cause to take special legal actions against the person who violated it.
Someone who wishes to file a protection order may ask for an emergency court hearing to discuss the reasons for the order. Both parties have an opportunity to give their side of the story, and the judge determines whether to grant the order. If a judge sides with the plaintiff, the defendant might be prohibited from the following:
- Attempting to communicate with the person who asked for the protection order via phone, email or any other electronic means
- Coming within a set distance of the person who asked for the order at any time
- Attempting to contact the person through their work, family or friends
A restraining order criminalizes any type of deliberate contact between the person the order was taken out against and the person who files it. Even if the violator didn't commit any crimes during the contact, violating a protection order can be grounds for an arrest and further legal action.
Every state has different laws concerning protection orders, so the first step is to check with your court to see what's required to file an order. While it's much easier to enlist the help of a qualified attorney, it's possible to fill out the petition for a restraining order on your own. Some of the information you need to provide to the court includes the following:
- Your identification and proof of residence
- Your reasons for requesting the protection order
- Your side of the story in as much detail as you can provide, including incidents, dates and any evidence that you have to present to the court
- Your signature affirming that the information you've provided is true
The court won't consider whether to grant your restraining order until giving the person you're requesting the order against a chance to defend themself. You'll receive a court date, and the other person will be served a summons to appear before the judge as the defendant. While different courts have varying wait times to hear cases, hearings for protection orders are normally prioritized due to the risk of harm to plaintiffs if they're unable to obtain an order they need.
In some cases, the judge may issue what's called an ex parte restraining order immediately. This is common if the complaint alleges serious abuse or violence and the judge feels the defendant should be restricted from contacting the plaintiff immediately. These orders are also called emergency or temporary protection orders. The defendant still receives an opportunity to appear before the court before the order is made permanent.
At the court hearing, you have the chance to present all your evidence while the defendant explains their side. The judge will decide whether the order stands, and it will be effective that day if the judge rules in the plaintiff's favor.
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There are various types of protection orders courts use, depending on the defendant's past behaviors and risk to the plaintiff. For example, you may be able to get a domestic violence protection order that keeps the defendant from showing up at your home, work or anywhere in public where you are. The defendant may be forbidden from possessing firearms while the order is active.
Some states have workplace violence restraining orders, which are special orders against coworkers accused of harassment, stalking or physical violence. The defendant may receive more than one restraining order at the court hearing.
You may need to pay court filing fees to get a restraining order. These are often around $100, but can vary by state. Courts may waive the fees if you're low-income or a victim of domestic violence.
If you reach out to local domestic violence shelters and nonprofit organizations, you may be able to receive support. Many of these organizations work with attorneys who offer their services to victims of stalking, domestic violence and harassment. One of these lawyers can help you fill out the required paperwork to file your restraining order free of charge.
Organizations that specialize in helping victims of abuse or stalking include:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA)
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- The National Center for Victims of Crime
Once you have the restraining order, communicate with the people who know so they can make sure the person you've taken the order against is held accountable. You may request copies to give to your employer, your children's school and other people in positions to contact the police if the person violates the order. It's important to file a police report if the person attempts to violate the order in any way.
Most states enforce restraining orders by allowing police to arrest violators. You can also bring civil or criminal charges against someone who has violated a protection order. Retaining an attorney to assist you if the person breaks the order is a good idea, so you can take legal action quickly.
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