What Is a Restraining Order?
A restraining order makes it a crime for your abusive partner to come near or contact you in any way. Every state uses different terms to describe their laws. We use “restraining” or “protective” order because they’re the most common terms. Your state might call it an order of protection or a restraining, protection-from-abuse, stay-away or peace order. Whatever it’s called, there are many ways that a restraining order can protect you:
- It can encourage the police, school officials and other authorities to help protect you from your abusive partner.
- You do not have to wait for your abusive partner to hurt you before calling the police — you can call as soon as they contact or come near you.
- Going to court establishes an official record of the abuse, making further legal action easier.
- You may be able to get custody and visitation orders that also protect your child.
- You may be able to make the abuser move out of a home you share.
- Your abuser may face criminal penalties for contacting you.
While a restraining order is a powerful tool, it can’t guarantee your safety or change your abusive partner. Here are some other things a restraining order CANNOT do:
- Guarantee your abusive partner will be out of your life, especially if you have a child together.
- Guarantee your abusive partner won’t still be able to intimidate, harass or scare you.
- Stop peer or gang retaliation.
How to Get a Restraining Order
In general, you start at your local courthouse by filing a petition or request for a temporary protection order. The court clerk usually provides forms for you to fill out, asking for your name and contact information in addition to your abusive partner’s name. Be sure to provide as much contact information for your abusive partner as you can.
Usually, the form will also ask for a detailed description of the abuse. You may need to provide evidence so make sure to bring pictures of injuries and copies of threatening emails, text messages, voicemails and Facebook posts.
After you complete the necessary forms, a judge will determine if you qualify for a protection order, often at a later date when they can lead a formal hearing. In the meantime, if the judge thinks you’re in immediate danger, he or she will issue a “temporary order of restraint,” which lasts only a short period of time — often just until your hearing date. At your hearing, your abusive partner will be invited to attend and both of you will have the opportunity to present your case. If the judge sides with you, you’ll get more permanent protection in the form of a restraining order.
There are some unique issues that you may face when filing for a restraining order:
Dating vs. Married
Although most states allow you to get a domestic violence protective order against someone you are married to or live with, you may not meet these requirements. Don’t worry, many states also allow you to a get restraining order against someone you’ve dated or had a child with. Find out the rules for getting a protective order in your state by checking our National Survey.
While there are several states that allow teens under 18 years old to apply for protection without their parent or guardian’s help, many states require you to have an adult involved. If you don’t want your parents to know, you may be able to have another adult help.
Although your abusive partner may be attending the same school as you, the court may not automatically deal with this situation. You should remember to ask them to address school issues in your restraining order.
There are big differences between states when it comes to what protection is available. If you’re thinking about getting a restraining order, find out what specific requirements apply to your state.
If you don’t think you’ll qualify for a restraining order in your state, don’t give up. There may be other ways to use the law to help you stay safe, like going through the criminal justice system. Chat with a peer advocate to access local legal services in your area.
Please note: we are not legal advocates at loveisrespect, so we’re unable to give you specific legal advice. However, we can locate a legal advocate in your area who can help. Call, chat or text with us!