Unfortunately, restraining orders (ROs) are common in family law practice. They arise not only between boyfriend and girlfriends, but husband and wives, ex spouses and in-laws. Some ROs are justified and some are clearly an act of malice against a former spouse or current lover.
ROs or Chapter 209A orders can prohibit the abuser from doing a number of things.
- No abuse – The court can order the abuser to stop abusing you or someone in your household
- No contact – The court can order the abuser to have no contact with you, either directly or indirectly
- Vacate – The court can order the abuser to stay away from your home or workplace by a specified number of yards
- Custody – The court can order that you have temporary custody of your minor children
- Support – The court can order the abuser to pay alimony and child support
- Damages – The court can order the abuser to reimburse you for expenses or damages incurred as a result of the abuse
- Impound address – The court can withhold your address from any court proceedings and keep it confidential from the abuser
- Treatment recommendation – The court can recommend the abuser to attend a treatment program but cannot order them to do so unless they have already violated a RO
- Surrender of firearms – The court may order the abuser to surrender firearms, licenses to possess firearms, or firearm identification cards.
ROs can be filed in either the district court, probate court, or superior court. Superior Courts however are not equipped to handle ROs and are limited in their jurisdiction. It is better to either file in district court or probate court, depending on your particular situation. If you already have a case pending in the probate courts (divorce, custody, guardianship), then it is a good idea to file any ROs in the same court so everything can be adjudicated together. ROs can also be filed at police stations after working hours. These are emergency ROs and are only valid for a period of no more than 24 hours. You are then required to appear in district court the following day to get an extension, and then 10 day after that in order to extend the RO to one full year.
RO hearings can be considered a mini-trial. Issues such as burden of proof and production, rules of evidence and proper court procedures must be considered. If your abuser has an attorney present at any of the RO hearings, it is a good idea to have an attorney of your own to help you defend yourself. There are instances when your abuser can ask the court for a reciprocal RO and the court may grant Mutual ROs. Because of this and many other reasons, you should have an attorney stand with you when asking the court for a RO.
Lastly, it needs to be said that a RO is simply a piece of paper. It empowers police and the court to exact harsh punishment to an abuser for violating a RO but the piece of paper will not protect you if the abuser really wanted to hurt you. If at any time, you feel in danger for yourself or your family, seek help through local police, hospitals, domestic violence shelters or counselors. Only you have the power to protect yourself and your family.