An order of protection, sometimes also known as a restraining order, requires the named person to stop harming you. At its best, an order of protection gives police the tool they need to prevent a crime from happening. However, an order of protection may not solve your problem, and in some cases, it may even make it worse.
How does an order of protection work?
An order of protection is intended to give you and your children legal protection from someone who has harmed or threatened to harm any of you by setting limits on his contact with you. The exact rules for orders of protection vary from state to state, but in general, you can usually file for an order of protection against ongoing violence or threats of violence, abuse, stalking, or any other kind of continual harassment.
Violation of a personal protection order is a criminal act. Thus, the existence of an order of protection allows the police to intervene before a more violent crime can be committed. At this point, the prosecutor will decide if the county or state will press charges. It is no longer in your hands.
When filing for the order of protection, you will have to show that the respondent engaged in a pattern of behavior which is harmful or threatening. In some states, if the reason for the order of protection involves sexual assault or child abuse, you only have to demonstrate that the violence occurred once.
Be as specific as you can about past events, and bring as much supporting evidence with you as you can. This can include copies of police or domestic violence reports, letters or emails, or cell phone bills which show the originating telephone number.
Some kinds of personal protection orders, such as those based on domestic violence, require you to demonstrate a relationship with the person against whom you are seeking the restraining order. However, you do not need to have a relationship with the respondent to file for an order of protection.
Depending on the type of abuse or harassment, the order of protection may bar the respondent from entering your place, being anywhere near you, calling you, or sending you mail. The respondent may be barred from interfering at your place of employment or your children’s school. If there has been a demonstrated threat of violence, he may even be banned from owning firearms.
The court process
Orders of protection are filed through the civil court. For this reason, you do not have to call the police or charge the other person with a crime in order to file for an order of protection. You may file for an order of protection through the civil court at the same time as the criminal court is dealing with criminal charges from a related case.
In many states, filing for an order of protection from physical violence is free of charge. There may be charges for other types of orders of protection, but they may be waived where the risk is extreme or where your income is low.
You will usually be given a contact list of family resources at the time when you file for the order of protection. Depending on your circumstances, a social work counselor may also be assigned to help you with shelter and security needs.
Emergency or other temporary orders of protection may sometimes be granted on the spot, although the paperwork may take some hours to fill out. You can request your address to be kept confidential. If necessary, you can also modify the initial order of protection after it has been issued.
Permanent orders of protection usually require a court hearing, where you may have to face the person against whom you are seeking the restraining order. You can bring a lawyer and witnesses to the hearing.
The order of protection is not complete until it is served. You can do this yourself or you can ask the court to have it done by a process server.
What you should do after the order of protection is granted
Always file copies of the order of protection with the police departments near your home, school, workplace, or any other places where you commonly go. Keep 2 copies for yourself.
Do not attempt to contact anyone against whom you have filed a restraining order. This may void the limited protection which the order of protection gives you. The other person may also see any attempt by you to contact him as provocation. He may file a countersuit, or take more drastic action.
If you previously lived together, it is often safest for you to move out. You can get an order of protection which requires your partner to move out, but if you are renting and your name is not on the lease, the landlord does not have to allow you to stay. The other person has the right to return for his belongings once, but he must be accompanied by a law enforcement officer at the time.
If you have children together with the other person, he may have custodial or visiting rights to those children. The order of protection will not interfere with those rights unless there is danger to the children. In this case, you can arrange visiting rights through a mutual relative or friend, if possible. You can ask for advice from your local family help center, whose number should be on the court contact list.
Limits on personal protection orders
Unfortunately, an order of protection can only go so far. In a few cases, its very existence may tip the balance of a difficult situation towards violence.
A violator can only be jailed for a limited amount of time, usually not more than around 3 months. Most orders of protection expire after a year. In both cases, you will have to consider what happens next.
If the situation is very dangerous, seek help immediately. In an emergency, do not hesitate to call 911.