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How to get a restraining order

Learn everything you need to know about how to get a restraining order, including the process and how long it lasts.

evident Editorial Team
July 9, 2023
Stop sign, restraining order

When faced with threatening or abusive situations, understanding your rights and legal protections is crucial. One important protective measure is a restraining order, which serves as a shield against harassment or violence. This article will provide a comprehensive guide on 'how do you get a restraining order,' the reasons one might be necessary, the grounds for obtaining one, and the processes involved.

We'll also explore the consequences of breaching such orders, how to remove them, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Stay safe and be informed.

Key Takeaways

What is a Restraining Order?

A restraining order, or a protection order, is a legal injunction issued by a court to protect an individual from being harassed, stalked, threatened, or harmed by another person. It prohibits the offender, or the 'restrained person,' from making any physical, verbal, or electronic contact with the protected individual.

Different restraining orders are available, each catering to different situations and relationships.

  1. Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO): This order protects individuals from abuse perpetrated by someone with whom they share a close relationship (such as a spouse, domestic partner, or family member).
  2. Civil Harassment Restraining Order (CHRO): Used for protection from stalking, threats, harassment, or violence from non-domestic relationships like neighbors or distant family members.
  3. Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): This order provides immediate short-term protection until a formal court hearing can be held.

Understanding these categories can guide you in identifying which type of order you need based on your specific circumstances.

Why Would I Need a Restraining Order?

Restraining orders are primarily sought as a protective measure when an individual feels threatened or endangered due to another person's behavior. It is a way to secure individuals' personal safety and peace of mind in potentially dangerous circumstances.

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Here are some scenarios when you may need a restraining order:

  1. Domestic Violence: If you're experiencing abuse within a domestic relationship, such as a spouse, a former spouse, or even a family member, a domestic violence restraining order can offer you protection.
  2. Harassment or Stalking: If someone is persistently pursuing or bothering you, such as a neighbor, an ex-partner, or a stranger, a restraining order may help to cease such disruptive behavior.
  3. Threats of Violence: If you've received explicit threats of physical harm from another individual, a restraining order can be instrumental in ensuring your safety.
  4. Protection of a Minor Child: In cases where your minor children are in potential danger from another person, such as an estranged spouse, family member, or former household member, a restraining order can ensure their safety.

Remember that the steps for obtaining a restraining order vary from state to state. For instance, the process of how to get a restraining order in Texas might differ from how to get one in Florida or Ohio. Always consult with a legal professional to understand your local laws and procedures.

Grounds for Getting a Restraining Order

The grounds for obtaining a restraining order are primarily based on evidence of harassment, abuse, or threats, demonstrating that you fear for your safety or mental well-being.

While the specific laws vary across states, some common grounds include:

  1. Physical Violence: Documented physical abuse, such as hitting, slapping, pushing, or unwanted physical contact.
  2. Threats: Evidence of threats to your safety, whether verbal or written, that cause you to fear for your life or physical well-being.
  3. Harassment: Continued patterns of unwelcome actions such as stalking, tracking your movements, unsolicited visits, or communication, causing you significant distress.
  4. Sexual Abuse: Instances of unwanted sexual advances or behaviors, including cases where you've been sexually assaulted.

Proof to support your claim could include medical records, police reports, photographs of injuries or damage, threatening emails or text messages, and sworn statements from witnesses who have seen or know about the abuse or harassment. If minor children are involved, their safety will also be a primary concern.

While this process can be intimidating, remember that legal assistance is available. Many organizations and county courts provide free resources and help to guide you through the process.

How to Get a Restraining Order

Obtaining a restraining order involves a legal process that may vary slightly from state to state.

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Here's a general step-by-step guide:

  1. Filing a Petition: Visit your local county court to file a petition for a restraining order. This document should detail your relationship with the person you're seeking protection from, the nature of the abuse or harassment, and when and where it occurred. Be sure to include as much detailed information as possible.
  2. Review by Judge: A judge will review your petition. They may issue a temporary restraining order if they believe you're in immediate danger. This order typically lasts until your full court hearing.
  3. Court Hearing: You'll be given a court hearing date, where you and the person you're filing against (if they choose to attend) can present a case. Bring any supporting documents or evidence to support your claim, such as police reports, medical records, or witness testimonies, to the final hearing.
  4. Final Order: If the judge determines a restraining order is appropriate, they will issue a final order. The duration of this order will depend on the nature of your case and the laws in your state.

Many counties provide free legal assistance for individuals seeking a restraining order, and local police officers can guide you on immediate steps if you're in immediate danger.

Seeking a restraining order can be a critical part of your safety planning if you're experiencing abuse or harassment.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Restraining Order?

The time it takes to get a restraining order largely depends on the situation's urgency and your state's specific laws.

In immediate danger cases, a court can issue a temporary restraining order the same day you file your petition. This temporary order typically lasts until your full court hearing, usually within 10 to 14 days. At this hearing, if the judge grants a final restraining order, it can last for a specific duration or indefinitely, based on the laws of your state and the details of your case.

How Long Does a Restraining Order Last?

The length of a restraining order depends on its type and the specifics of your case.

A temporary restraining order is usually valid until the date of your court hearing.

Final restraining orders are valid for a specific period, such as one or five years, while others may be permanent. However, even permanent orders are usually subject to review and can be altered or dismissed based on changes in circumstances or at the request of the protected person.

What Happens if Someone Violates a Restraining Order?

If an abuser violates the terms of the restraining order, serious legal consequences can follow. The nature of these consequences depends on the laws of the specific jurisdiction, but here's what generally happens:

  1. Reporting the Breach: If a breach occurs, it should be reported to the police immediately. Document the violation and maintain any evidence, such as text messages, emails, phone calls, or witness testimonies, to support your case.
  2. Police Response: Once reported, police officers are typically required to enforce the restraining order. The offender could be arrested on the spot, depending on the severity of the breach.
  3. Legal Consequences: Violating a restraining order is often treated as contempt of court, which can lead to criminal charges. These may result in fines, community service, mandatory counseling, or jail time.
  4. Additional Legal Protection: In some cases, the breach may lead to extending or strengthening the existing order, providing the victim with additional protection.

Remember, a restraining order is a court order. Violating it is not just an offense against you—it's an offense against the court. Always report violations promptly to ensure your safety and the enforcement of the law.

How to Remove a Restraining Order

Removing or modifying a restraining order usually involves another court process. If you're the protected person and wish to lift the order, you'll typically need to do the following:

  1. File a Request: Visit your local county court to request the dismissal or modification of the restraining order. You'll likely need to explain why you believe the order is no longer necessary.
  2. Court Hearing: A hearing will be scheduled where you'll present your case to the judge. The restrained person may also attend this hearing.
  3. Judge's Decision: The judge will decide based on the evidence and arguments. If the judge believes the risk is still present, they may choose to keep the order in place.

It's crucial to consult with a legal professional to understand the specifics of your jurisdiction and situation. Safety should always be the priority.

Restraining Order FAQs

How much does a restraining order cost?

The cost of filing for a restraining order can vary by state. Some states may charge a filing fee ranging from $20 to $50, while others may waive the fee, particularly in cases involving domestic violence. Costs may also be associated with serving the order to the restrained person, though in many cases, the police will serve the order for free.

How does a restraining order work?

A restraining order works by legally prohibiting the restrained person from certain actions, such as being within a certain distance of the protected person or contacting them in any way. Violations of these prohibitions can lead to legal consequences, including criminal charges.

How much does it cost to file a restraining order in California?

There's generally no charge to file a restraining order in California in cases of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. 

What are the grounds for a restraining order in NY?

In New York, grounds for a restraining order include but are not limited to, instances of physical violence, threats of violence, stalking, and forms of non-physical abuse.

What proof do you need for a restraining order in Texas?

In Texas, you need to provide proof of a recent act of violence, threat, or harassment and a reason to believe that violence may occur in the future. This evidence can include police reports, medical records, pictures of injuries, or testimony from witnesses.

The Bottom Line

Seeking a restraining order can be crucial in ensuring your safety and peace of mind when faced with abuse, harassment, or violence. Understanding the process, from identifying the grounds for the order to knowing what happens if it's breached, can empower you to navigate this challenging time more effectively.

While the process can seem daunting, remember that help is available—many organizations and county courts offer free legal assistance and resources.

Always consult with a legal professional or local law enforcement to ensure you take the proper steps for your specific situation and location.