The Women’s Law Organization defines a “mutual” order of protection that prohibits both parties from abusing, molesting, or interfering with the privacy or rights of each other. It can order that both parties not be in contact with each other.
If you file for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) and the defendant (the abuser) files and serves you with a counter-petition stating that you have abused them, there are generally the following options in which mutual order may be issued:
- The judge would hold a hearing where both you and the abuser present evidence;
- The judge must believe that you both were primary aggressors and neither of you acted in self-defense and;
- If you agree or consent to a mutual order without having a hearing.
In many cases, the judges or lawyers will encourage people to consent to an order against them using the rationale that “if you do not plan on violating the order, it should not bother you to have an order against you.” However, this perspective can be problematic. If the abuser receives the restraining order, they can easily try to report a violation or trick you into violating the order to get you arrested. This can have damaging consequences on future custody cases, restraining order cases, or immigration matters.
Keep in mind that a judge cannot force you to consent. But, you have the right to a hearing where you can defend yourself, and then the judge must determine if the abuser proved their case against you. If a counter-petition is filed against you or you are urged to consent to a mutual order, it might be helpful to retain an attorney to advise you in your particular situation.
What Protections Does A Restraining Order Offer?
The Minnesota legal aid center describes some protections that restraining orders offer. You can request the court for many different things to help ensure your safety. Here are some examples:
- That the abuser cannot harm or threaten you, your child, or anyone in your home;
- That the abuser cannot contact you in person, by email, phone, messaging, social media, or use another person to contact you;
- That the abuser has to vacate your home, even if you left to stay somewhere else for a while;
- That the abuser has to keep away from where you work, live, and go to school;
- That you have temporary custody of your children;
- That the abuser’s parenting time (visitation) with the child be limited or supervised by someone else;
- Order temporary child support;
- Order temporary spousal maintenance (alimony);
- Order the abuser to go to counseling or treatment;
- Order counseling or other social services for one or both of you if you are married or have children;
- Provide you the temporary right to keep or use certain property (like a car);
- Order the abuser not to sell, give away, destroy, or harm property;
- Order the police to assist you in getting your things out of the home;
- Order the abuser to pay for costs you have had because of the abuse. This can be medical bills or the cost of replacing damaged property;
- Order the abuser to keep insurance for you and your child;
- An order that the abuser cannot abuse or harm you or your child’s pet as a way to threaten you and;
- An order that you get to keep your or your child’s pet.
How Do Judges Enforce Mutual Restraining Orders?
Sometimes abusive people attempt to obtain restraining orders against the people they have abused to get back at them. Judges are fully aware of these scenarios. The judge may not grant the abusive person a restraining order against you even if they demand one. But in other situations, abusive people can receive protective orders against those they abused. If you try to obtain a restraining order and the person who abused you also seeks one against you, the court may write up “mutual restraining orders.” This implies that each of you has a restraining order against the other, as mentioned earlier in the text.
If a judge orders mutual restraining orders, the judge needs to write down the reasons why they are issuing restraining orders against both of you. In addition, the judge has to write down who the “primary aggressor” is. This means that the judge has to determine which person is most likely to abuse the other. The judge needs to write this down for the police to know what to do if a problem arises.
If you get served with a restraining order against you, it can have serious consequences. It is advised to attend the hearing. If you do not attend the hearing, the judge may grant the person who abused you a restraining order against you. You do not want that to occur for many reasons:
- The abusive person may mislead the judge about you or makeup things you did to get a criminal case filed against you;
- If the abusive person receives an order against you, it takes attention away from their abusive behavior. It may appear like the domestic violence was your fault as much as it was their fault and;
- If you each have protective orders against each other, the police may not know what to do when there is a problem. You may have trouble getting the police to arrest the abusive person for violating your order which makes you less safe.
In sum, it allows the abuser to harm you by taking advantage of the system designed to protect you. Attend the court on the hearing date and inform the judge about your facts. Seek out an advocate or lawyer before the hearing to help you prepare. Inform the judges that you are the victim of domestic violence. If you can, explain to the judge the history of how the other person has abused you, past injuries, medical records, police calls, etc. Bring police or medical reports, pictures, or witnesses if available. If you do not have any of these things, communicate to the judge the details about what occurred instead, for instance:
- If you believe that the abusive person is only trying to get an order against you because you left them, or because you have an order out against them, or because they are trying to get custody, or because you have a new romantic partner, or because their friends told them to, etc.;
- If you never physically hurt or tried to hurt the person who abused you physically;
- If you never made the other person scared of being physically harmed by you and;
- If you never made the other person have sexual intercourse with you against their will.
Before entering the courtroom, thoroughly read the statement (“affidavit”). It is the document the person who abused you filled out when they got their restraining order against you. You can obtain this affidavit from the file in the clerk’s office. If there are statements in that affidavit that are not true, immediately inform the judge.
The judge should only issue a mutual restraining order (one against both of you) if they believe you are in danger from the other. If the judge does issue an order against both of you, they must include the facts that made them determine you are both in danger from each other. The judge’s report on these facts is called “findings.” If the judge grants the person who abused you a protective order against you, request a written copy of the findings. You may want to show them to a lawyer or advocate and consider filing an appeal.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
As mentioned above, if you are in a similar situation of feeling unsafe and learning that your abuser may have filed a restraining order against you. It may be beneficial to seek a local restraining order attorney to assist you in your case.