The governments in most states have created a simple process for anyone at risk of domestic violence to have their abuser restrained from contacting them. Here is how that works.
Temporary restraining order basics
Governments are trying to balance two things with temporary protective orders. On one hand, everyone in America has rights and you cannot take away those rights without some kind of due process. On the other hand, nobody wants to sit by and watch a spouse or child be abused. So state laws generally allow for some type of temporary restraining order that strikes a balance between the two concerns. You can usually get a temporary restraining order with minimal due process, but it is also only in force for a limited amount of time so the alleged abuser does not lose his or her rights permanently.
Look for abuse victim advocates
Supporters of domestic abuse victims know that legal options are useless if a victim cannot afford to get into court. So almost every state has some sort of government or charity organization that can help abuse victims through the process. If you do not have the money for a lawyer or you are just at a loss for what to do, consider calling the free National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The hotline can connect you with resources in your area that will usually be able to walk you through the restraining order process.
The legal process
The process itself is usually straightforward. An abuse victim typically has to go to the local courthouse and fill out a “petition” form. The form will describe the person asking for the restraining order (the petitioner), the person to be restrained (the respondent), why the respondent needs to be restrained, and what he or she should be restrained from doing. Usually, a judge will review the petition with only the petitioner in the courtroom and will issue a restraining order for a short period of time. It must then be delivered to the respondent (served), so he or she knows about the restrictions and has an opportunity to challenge the order in court. At some point, the petitioner may have a contested hearing in court where both parties will appear and dispute the order.
Whether a contested hearing is necessary or not, it helps for the petitioner to have good evidence to convince the court that abuse is happening or likely to happen without a restraining order. Specifics are very important. Petitioners should try to remember the exact day and circumstances of any abuse. Written communication is very helpful to convince a judge the petitioner’s story is true. For example, if a petitioner says she had a fight with her boyfriend and the boyfriend hit her, a text message apologizing or talking about the fight afterwards is helpful. Photographs of any injuries sustained are helpful as well, as are medical records. Restraining order hearings are generally done without any discovery, meaning petitioners are not usually allowed to request records from the other side and they instead must bring their own evidence of abuse.
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