A restraining order is a document issued by a court that prevents one party from contacting or communicating with another party or parties. Courts issue restraining orders when one party credibly alleges that another has engaged in domestic abuse, violence, or stalking, or has threatened to commit these acts.

Consequences of violating a restraining order include being held in contempt of court; losing child custody or visitation rights; jail time and/or monetary fines; and money damages.

What are the Contents of a Restraining Order?

A court typically typically issues a restraining order to prevent physical harm to a person. Physical harm includes stalking, assault, domestic violence, and domestic abuse. A court may also issue a restraining order to prevent emotional harm or distress.

A restraining order may include terms that require the restrained party from:

  • Approaching, or attempting to approach the party who obtained the order, within a certain radius;
  • Attempting to contact the party who obtained the order; or
  • Engaging in acts of intimidation, or threats to commit violence or to violate the order.

A restraining order may also include terms requiring a party to:

  • Move out of a shared residence;
  • Refrain from visiting the other party’s home or place of employment; and
  • Undergo anger management therapy.

In some instances, a court may issue an order to prevent financial harm. Such restraining orders may require a party, such as a debt collector, from engaging in financial harassment. Such orders may also require a party to refrain from specific financial activity that will harm the party who obtained the order.

What Else Can be Restrained?

In appropriate cases, restraining orders can be issued to protect more than one person. If, for example, an individual has made threats against an individual and that individual’s family, a court may issue a restraining order protecting the entire family from being contacted by the restrained individual.

A business entity can ask the court to issue a restraining order against another business or individual, if the other business or individual has threatened or engaged in illegal activity affecting the business entity.

What are the Consequences of Violating a Restraining Order?

A person or entity that violates a restraining order will be held in contempt of court for violating that order. Contempt of court can be punished by monetary fines, imprisonment, or both.

Violation of a restraining order carries civil penalties, including fines. Violation of an order also may prompt a court to issue a mandatory injunction. A mandatory injunction is a court order requiring a person or entity to take a specific action. For example, if an individual has obtained a restraining order against a factory prohibiting the factory from engaging in pollution, a court may take action, The court may require the factory to remediate the pollution by, for example, ordering that the factory properly dispose of waste.

An individual who violates a restraining order may be sued by a victim in civil court. The court may require the violator to pay monetary damages for emotional pain and suffering. The court may order a violator who engages in physical harm, to pay for doctor bills, pharmacy bills, and other expenses resulting from that harm.

If the violation consists of physical abuse, a court may order revocation of the violator’s child custody and visitation rights, especially if the physical abuse is committed in the presence of the violator’s child or children.

Violation of a restraining order may also result in criminal penalties. The amount of prison time and/or monetary fine depends upon the severity of the violation. For example, a person who intentionally violates a restraining order by approaching the protected individual with a gun may be charged with a felony. Violation of a restraining order that is otherwise punishable as a misdemeanor, may be punished as a felony if the violation is a second, third, or other additional offense.

What Should a Victim Do if a Restraining Order is Violated?

Restraining orders cannot be effectively enforced if their violation is not brought to the attention of the authorities. Therefore, victims should promptly report all violations to law enforcement officials. If the police issue a police report, the victim should obtain a copy.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer if a Restraining Order Has Been Violated?

If you have been accused of violating a restraining order, or your restraining order is being violated, you should contact a criminal defense attorney or a family law attorney. An experienced criminal lawyer lawyer near you can represent your rights if you have been accused of violating a restraining order.

If your own restraining order has been violated, an experienced family law attorney near you can assist you with taking appropriate legal action, including the filing of a contempt of court order, and/or initiating civil litigation.