A restraining order is a court document that restricts, or eliminates, contact between two people. Restraining orders are usually associated with victims of domestic violence, but can be obtained by victims of any form of harassment. Essentially, a judge decides how far the defendant must stay away to keep you safe. In extreme cases, a judge will order no form of contact, including telephone, letters or even e-mails. Violating a restraining order is tantamount to violating any other court order and will result in the defendant's arrest. However, the person filing a restraining order must also abide by the restraining order or the order may be nullified.
Types of Restraining Orders
There are two types of restraining orders: an emergency protective order, and a restraining order. An emergency protective order is filed by law enforcement officers and protects you for five days while you establish a more permanent order. The police officer can ask the abusive party to leave the home, and to make absolutely no contact with you during the restraining period. A copy of this order is automatically dispersed to the local sheriff and police stations. If the abuser contacts you, he will be automatically arrested.
A restraining order is a list of stipulations signed by a judge. If the abusive party is not in jail, the two of you will meet with a court mediator before the restraining order is signed. During this meeting, you will decide on custody, property and contact. In cases of domestic violence, the restrained person will not be permitted within 500 feet of you, your home, and your workplace. If there are children involved, supervised visitation is strongly recommended. In this case, the restraining order will permit a relative, friend or court appointed individual to pick up and drop off the children for visitation. It is important to be honest with the court if the abuser has ever hurt the children physically or mentally. Sometimes, it is safer for the kids to have no visitation at all.
Filing a Restraining Order
To file a domestic violence restraining order, you must meet certain criteria. First, you must establish that the abuser is your significant other. If you are married, or have children together, this is already assumed. Second, you must prove that the abuser has victimised you. It is essential that you call the police each and every time you are victimised. This establishes a pattern, and allows the judge to see that the situation is emergent. Collect statements from adult witnesses such as family and friends to submit to the judge. It does not cost money to file a domestic violence restraining order. At the courthouse, ask for an ex-parte hearing.
If granted, your day in court will come sooner rather than later. Contact your state's victim witness program if you need help filing the restraining order, or serving a subpoena to the defendant. When you do make it to court, the abuser may be there to defend herself. Remember to keep your cool, and tell the truth. If the abuser lies about you, or has an outburst, keep quiet and wait your turn. Judges and bailiffs will handle it, and your calm demeanour will make you a more reliable witness. When you leave the court, you will have your restraining order in hand. In most states, it is your responsibility to deliver a copy of the order to local law enforcement agencies.
Calling the Police
If the abuser violates the restraining order in any way, call the police. Violation of a restraining order, especially a domestic violence restraining order, will get the offending party arrested. The weeks just before and after you leave are the most dangerous times for a victim of domestic violence.
Remember that it does take time for the police to arrive. While restraining orders are essential, they are not weapons. Be sure to lock all of your doors and windows, and purchase pepper spray. It may be helpful to take a self-defence class designed for people in your situation.
Develop a support system to help enforce the restraining order. Ask your neighbours to help you keep an eye out for the abuser. If your can, stay with friends until your life stabilises. Most importantly, seek therapy. A therapist can be your church pastor, a social worker, or a marriage and family counsellor. Find a domestic violence support group in your area. It is empowering to know you are not alone, and that others have overcome domestic violence.