Can I Send a Cease and Desist?

by Shelley Frost
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Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.

In a perfect world, everyone could resolve conflicts peacefully and move on with life. In reality, you might need to take steps beyond civil conversations to get someone else to stop doing something that you deem offensive, intimidating or otherwise unacceptable.

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A cease and desist is one option that could resolve the issue without additional legal action.

What Is a Cease and Desist Letter?

A cease and desist letter is a written notification requesting that the offending party stop what they're doing. This could be illegal activities or anything else you could take legal action against. You're giving them formal notice that you're prepared to take them to court if they don't stop immediately. It can also show that the other person knows they're doing something wrong, so they can't claim that it was an accidental infringement they didn't realize they were doing.

Cease and desist letters can be used for personal or business matters. You might send a cease and desist letter to stop contact from a debt collector, stop someone from using your intellectual property, stop harassment, stop boundary encroachments and stop slander, libel or defamation.

Sending one of these letters isn't actual legal action. You can't enforce anything with a letter. It's just letting the recipient know you'll take legal action if they continue what they're doing. It could be your last resort before you file a lawsuit, and some jurisdictions require you to send a cease and desist letter before filing certain types of lawsuits.

Some recipients might be scared enough by the letter to stop what they're doing. However, they might refuse to comply or seek legal counsel to explore their legal options.

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Can I Send a Cease and Desist Letter Without a Lawyer?

You don't need a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter. It doesn't carry any legal weight or have any enforceable legal action, so anyone can draft and send one. However, it can be helpful to have a lawyer write your letter or at least review it. They can help you understand your legal options based on the specifics of the situation. This allows you to be detailed in the letter, so the offending party understands what you plan to do next.

A lawyer can also help you avoid saying anything in your letter that could get you in trouble. For example, you want to avoid threatening any kind of illegal action in your letter.

What Does a Cease and Desist Letter Need to Include?

The exact contents of your cease and desist letter will depend on the situation. Making it detailed and specific to the actions of the other individual can make it more effective. Ensure everything you put in the letter is accurate and reasonable. For example, if you threaten to sue the recipient in a certain amount of time, make sure you're prepared to file a lawsuit within that timeframe.

Your letter should include:

  • Your name and contact information
  • The recipient's name and contact information
  • A demand to stop the specific offending behavior with a description of the behavior
  • The deadline for remedying the issue
  • The next steps you plan to take, including specific legal action you might pursue

Sending the letter via certified mail gives you proof that the offending party received the document. Hold on to that receipt as proof in case you need to pursue legal action.

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What Happens If the Cease and Desist Doesn't Work?

You can't force the recipient to follow what your letter says. If the recipient ignores the offending behavior, you have to decide on your next move. You can ignore the issue, but they won't have any motivation to stop if you don't follow through on your threats of legal action.

If you want to press the issue, you can take legal action, which could include a civil lawsuit to seek monetary compensation for damages. You could also pursue a cease and desist order or a restraining order from the courts, depending on the nature of an issue. Working with an experienced attorney at this point helps you explore your options and ensure you take the proper steps to get the results you want.

Is a Cease and Desist Order Different From a Cease and Desist Letter?

A cease and desist order is a different type of document. A judge has to issue an order, and it has potential legal consequences since it's backed by the court. The recipient of a cease and desist order could have to pay fines, pay for damages or serve jail time for ignoring the order.

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