A  restraining order is issued by a Court to restrict someone from harming another, usually by requiring the individual it is issued against to either do, or not do a specific act. Restraining orders can last for several days to several years, and can even include criminal penalties if violated.

The harm a restraining order seeks to prevent is usually physical harm to another person, but can also be issued to prevent emotional or economic harm. Restraining orders, also referred to as “protective orders” in some states, are commonly used in cases involving domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault.

Restraining orders are not only issued to protect a single person, but can also include other family members, friends, and (such as with a child protection order). Additionally, restraining orders can be put in place to also protect businesses or the general public.

What is Included in a Restraining Order?

Most restraining orders are issued by a court as a result of the person seeking protection requesting it, not as a result of the prosecutor requesting it or the judge issuing on their own without a request.  

Examples of instances where a restraining order is issued without the person needing protection requesting it are as follows:

  • Criminal Cases: The prosecutor may request the judge to issue a no contact order to protect victims from alleged perpetrators.
  • Divorce: Sometimes in divorce cases a judge will automatically issue a restraining order that orders both parties not to sell, destroy, or spend martial property until the divorce is final.

Most restraining orders contain a variety of restrictions since the need for it depends on the specific reason(s) that a person is requesting it to be issued for. The following examples use “Al” and “Beth” to illustrate different types of rules a restraining order may put in place:

  • Stay Away: Al is required to stay away from Beth, her home, her workplace, or her school. Usually Al will be ordered that he cannot go within a certain distance of Beth or place, such as 100 feet.
  • No Contact: Al is not allowed to contact Beth. No contact means by phone, mail, fax, notes, gifts, or attempting to communicate with Beth through other people. Current restraining orders can also include online contact, such as through Facebook or Twitter.
  • Cease Abuse: Al is ordered to stop physically or verbally threatening, or harassing Beth. Again, this includes abuse directly by Al against Beth, or attempting to send threatening or harassing messages through other people.
  • Exclusive Use: If a married couple owns property, such as a home or car, the court may order that only one partner be allowed to use the property either on their own, or by the request of either party.
  • Other Items: Courts may also include various requirements, such as drug counseling, therapy, or the surrender of firearms in a restraining order.

How Long do Restraining Orders Last?

Restraining orders can last for varying lengths depending on the type of order as well as other factors and circumstances. Some different restraining orders and their timeframes can include:

  • Emergency Protective Order (EPO): These orders go into effect immediately and usually expire in less than a week, or until a hearing can take place. EPOs are commonly issued when a violent domestic dispute occurs.
  • Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): TROs are basically normal restraining orders, but last only for a limited duration. A TRO expires within a few weeks, or until a full restraining order hearing can be held to determine how long or if the order needs to be put in place.
  • Permanent Restraining Order: Permanent restraining orders, or PRO’s, are intended to last for a set number of years. These types of orders may be renewed/extended if the threatening behavior has not stopped.

How are Restraining Orders Enforced?

Since a restraining order is (generally) initiated by one individual against another individual, it is considered a civil action, rather than a criminal action. This means that if a court issues a restraining order and it is violated, the person who has violated the order will not automatically get into trouble right away by the police.

In order to enforce the restraining order, the person who originally requested it will have to file request with the Court for a hearing, commonly referred to as a contempt hearing. At this hearing, the judge will decide how to punish the individual if a violation of the restraining order is found.

This does not mean that the police should not be contacted if an restraining order is being violated. It just means that they will not automatically have the authority to arrest the person violating the restraining order (unless some other criminal action takes place that allows the police to take action).

After a restraining order is granted, any and all violations should be reported to the Court.

Is there Anything Else I Should Know about Restraining Orders?

Various advocacy groups such as battered women’s clinics, can help an individual fill out the restraining order forms for little to no cost.

It is important to make sure the restraining order does not conflict or violate existing child custody or visitation orders, and to make sure the court modifies child custody or visitation orders when a restraining order is issued.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney to Get or Contest a Restraining Order?

Generally, yes. Restraining orders are of a sensitive and serious nature, and speaking with an experienced criminal lawyer can be helpful. The right attorney can inform you about your rights, as well as suggest and preserve any possible remedies you may have.