How to File a Restraining Order
Whether you need a domestic violence restraining order through family court or someone outside of your family or intimate relationships is threatening or abusing you, seeking a restraining order is often a complicated and confusing process if you don't know ahead of time what's going to happen.
We hope this article provides enough general information about how to file a restraining order either through family court or through law enforcement.
What is a restraining order?
A restraining order, also known as a protective order or order of protection, is a court-ordered document that prohibits someone from coming into contact with you and/or your family - this includes physical contact, calls, texts, emails, and social media.
Restraining orders vary by state, but this article will provide you with general information on the process to get you started.
Who can obtain a restraining order?
Anyone who’s been victim to the acts or threats of violence can receive a restraining order. Violence is defined in many ways, including:
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse
- Sexual assault
- Sexual harassment
Often, acts of violence are commitment by people close to the victim, like a domestic partner, former spouses, or someone else they have an intimate relationship with. However, sometimes restraining orders are against someone the victim doesn't know well — like someone harassing them on the internet.
It does not need to turn into physical violence in order to seek a protective order.
When should I obtain a restraining order?
Deciding to obtain an order of protection is often a very difficult decision. If you feel that your safety – whether that's emotional, physical, or digital — is being threatened or is already damaged, then you may want to consider this option.
If you are in an intimate relationship with someone or they are considered family, you will likely go through the family court process. This likely does not require you to file a police report.
If you choose to report to the police, they may be able to file a criminal order of protection on your behalf.
Can anyone help me through the process?
Yes — there are plenty fo resources available to you.
Call a local hotline
They can often give you the specific process for your state and many even have advocates in the courthouses to help you fill out the paperwork properly.
Contact a lawyer
Lawyers often give free consultations and break down the process of how to file a restraining order. While you likely won't need a lawyer to fill out the order form for the initial restraining order, they can be a good advocate for you and give you legal advice throughout the process.
Lawyers are often best to have once you receive a temporary restraining order and must then face the offender in court for their change to argue their side. Chances are, the offender will have a lawyer — which is why having one can help.
If you can not afford a lawyer, many nonprofits have advocates who will attend court with you and help you through the process.
How to file a restraining order
State processes differ slightly, but there are no court fees required for filing the order. See the steps on how to get a court order of protection in your state.
Here’s the general process for how to file a restraining order:
1. Gather your evidence
This can include photos of physical abuse, threatening text messages, emails, or other forms of communication. Ideally, the photos will have a date and time available on them.
You can also create a "log" of evidence (in a Google sheet or offline on physical paper) that creates a calendar of the different forms or threats of abuse by the other person.
2. Think about filing a report with your police department
While we understand why interacting with the police can often cause additional trauma, it can also be helpful in trying to obtain a restraining order. Some states even require you file a police report before receiving a restraining order. A hotline advocate or lawyer can help you understand the regulations in your jurisdiction.
3. Go to the court house
This can be intimidating, and you likely won't know what you're doing/where to go. Don't be afraid to ask for help from court staff or hotline advocate for help. You can also bring a friend or trusted person along for emotional support — although they may not be allowed to enter the physical court room with you.
Here's the basics on how to file a restraining order:
- Fill out the court form(s)
- Wait in line - this is not a short process — it will likely take the entire day to see a judge.
- See a judge
- Explain clearly and calmly why you are seeking an order of protection — it might be useful for you to write out exactly what you want to say to the judge and go over it a few times before entering the court room.
- Know that they may deny it for a wide variety of reasons. Having an advocate or lawyer who can help plead your case can make a difference.
- If approved, you will receive a temporary restraining order and a court date
The restraining order usually isn't active until it is served to the respondent. Hold onto your copy of the order at all times in case they violate it. The local sherrif's office is supposed to deliver the copy of the restraining order to the other party (respondent) — but this can take weeks. If you don't know where the other party is residing, it can take longer.
In some cases, the best thing to do is to hire a private server who will do some investigative work to find the individual and serve them. In some states, anyone can be an official server as long as they get a document notarized.
Remember, the most dangerous time for survivors is often after they leave the situation. The person you're seeking a restraining order against may retaliate so you need to be extra cautious. Make sure you have a safety plan.
Then you go to the next court hearing, and if they find the individual and serve them, they will be in court that day. You should mentally prepare for this. If they can't find the individual to serve them, the restraining order will likely be extended until the next court hearing date. Then you will have a final hearing where the plaintiff (you) and the defendant (them) will both have the chance to speak. If both parties agree on the terms of the restraining order, the judge will initiate a final restraining order — which is likely in place for two years and in some cases up to five years. If either party does not agree, both the victim and the abuser will go in front of the judge to share their accounts. The judge will make a determination based on the testimony and/or evidence they receive.
Victims of domestic violence or other abuse that pushes someone to file for an order of protection is complicated and scary. Sometimes those who file a restraining order feel guilty afterwards or like they took it a step too far. This is normal — because you didn't file a restraining order for revenge or to punish the other person, you did it for your own safety.
Remember to stay strong and know that you deserve to feel emotionally, physically, and digitally safe.
The offender might be upset or angry that you filed a restraining order against them. Know that at the end of the day, a restraining order is a piece of paper. Offenders don't usually like to follow rules—more than 50% of restraining orders are violated by an offender.
What to do if offender violates restraining order
-If in immediate danger, call 911
-If not in immediate danger, call a local hotline
They will let you know how to file a violation of the restraining order. Often times, a violation is processed through criminal court and you will have to file a police report.
We recommend filing the violations if you feel safe doing so, mostly to create a paper trail of the offender's behavior. If you need to seek an additional restraining order or tighten the parameters on the existing one, the documentation of their bad behavior can drastically help.
Phone number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Information on legal aid for all genders.
Emotional support, information, and referrals.
Phone number: 1-855-484-2846