A restraining order is an order issued by a court that is used to prevent a person from causing harm to someone else. Generally speaking, the order typically identifies a particular individual and gives them detailed instructions either to do or to not do a specific act. For example, a restraining order may be issued to instruct a former spouse to stay away from their ex-spouse.

Although restraining orders are usually used to prevent physical harm from occurring, they can also be granted in situations where a person needs protection from emotional or economic harm. When it refers to the latter two, the restraining order is sometimes called an “injunction” instead.

Restraining orders are fairly common in cases involving certain family law issues, such as domestic violence, harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.

For instance, a restraining order may require that a person stop contacting their former spouse. The order would most likely cover any form of contact, including by phone (e.g., calls or texts), via email or regular mail, sending them gifts or notes, or by trying to communicate with them through other people (e.g., “Tell my ex-spouse that…”).

Modernly, restraining orders can also be used to prevent contact through social media channels as well.

Can a Restraining Order be Lifted, Dropped, or Removed?

In some cases, there may be instances where a restraining order can be lifted, dropped, or removed. However, the party requesting the lift or removal will need to follow a particular procedure to ensure that they are not in violation of the restraining order.

Since restraining orders are put in place by a court, they must be removed through a court process before a person is able to re-initiate contact without being in violation of the terms of the order.

For example, most restraining orders will provide a certain time limit. Once that time limit passes, the restraining order may expire if a party does not renew or ask for an extension of the order.

On the other hand, if the restraining order does not have a time limit or a party wishes to remove the order before the time limit is up, then they will need to file a motion with a court.

There are a number of different names for what a motion to remove a restraining order is called, but the motion generally must include certain information, such as:

  • The names of the parties;
  • The date that the restraining order was entered by the court; and
  • Any reasons for lifting or removing the restraining order.

The reasons for lifting a restraining order should indicate that the parties want to have contact with one another and that the victim (or the person who initially requested the restraining order), agrees to lifting the order and is not being coerced into filing a motion to remove.

After a hearing, the court will consider any evidence that was presented and then make a decision on whether to grant or to deny the motion to remove the restraining order.

What is Required to Remove a Restraining Order?

The first piece of paperwork required to remove a restraining order will usually be the motion itself. Many states have standardized forms that a person can use to file their motion and some court systems even make these forms available online.

It is important to note that there may be a filing fee associated with filing the motion. However, there are some jurisdictions that may not charge filing fees for any additional documents that are attached to the restraining order.

For instance, a motion to remove a restraining order must be accompanied by appropriate evidence. This evidence helps the court determine whether lifting the restraining order would be reasonable given the circumstances of the case.

Types of evidence that the court may consider include:

  • Documents (e.g., pay stubs and certificates of completion from rehabilitation programs like anger management);
  • Statements given by other people (such as, written affidavits or oral testimony at the hearing);
  • If applicable to the case, evidence relating to child custody or child visitation guidelines; and
  • Any records from parole or probation officers, or other law enforcement authorities if the person’s criminal background is at issue.

The person who is subject to the restraining order (i.e., the person who must stay away or not do an action) should provide proof of good behavior. This can include evidence that shows they are in compliance with the existing restraining order or evidence that the restraining order is not necessary.

What is a Permanent Restraining Order?

A permanent restraining order, also known as a “protective order”, will usually go into effect after a hearing for a temporary restraining order. Permanent restraining orders differ from temporary ones in that they are enforceable for longer durations of time and can be effective indefinitely.

What is a Temporary Restraining Order?

In contrast, a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) will immediately go into effect as soon as they are issued by a court. They will usually have a set expiration date. Depending on state laws, the time limit on a TRO can range anywhere from 5 to 15 days, or until a hearing on a permanent restraining order can take place.

TROs are intended as a makeshift solution to prevent the unwanted contact from happening before a more in-depth hearing can be scheduled in regard to whether a permanent restraining order is necessary.

During the TROs allotted time period, the person seeking a restraining order must petition the court to either make the restraining order permanent or to extend the order. If they do not, then the restraining order will be void as soon as it expires.

Are There Any Consequences for Violating a Restraining Order?

The courts consider the violation of a restraining order a very serious matter. Thus, a violation will usually lead to some significant legal consequences. Even if the parties have changed their minds and mutually agreed to have contact, the contact should not occur until after a motion is made and the restraining order is lifted by the court.

The consequences for violating a restraining order might include:

  • Contempt of court citations;
  • Criminal charges that may lead to further penalties, such as jail time or probation;
  • Having to pay fines; and
  • The loss of certain rights (e.g., child visitation).

Depending on the laws of a particular state, each individual instance of contact may count as a separate violation of the restraining order and thus can result in separate offenses.

For example, if a defendant sends three text messages, each text message may be treated as a separate incident and as such, they can be charged with violating the restraining order three times.

There can even be penalties for when the person who initiated the restraining order reaches out or requests contact first.

Similar to the process for removing an order, a party will also need to present evidence to the court that demonstrates a violation of the restraining order. They can also use this evidence as a defense in a hearing to show why an order should not be lifted. The court will evaluate the evidence to determine whether the restraining order was in fact violated or not.

Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Lift My Restraining Order?

The facts relating to family matters, including restraining orders, can become fairly complicated rather quickly. Thus, it might be in your best interest to contact a local family law attorney if you wish to have a restraining order removed.

An experienced family law attorney can advise you about your rights, help you navigate the legal system, represent you in court, and provide guidance regarding the best way to proceed with your matter.

If you have been accused of violating a restraining order, then you should consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As discussed, the court takes violations of restraining orders very seriously, so it is a good idea to get professional advice on how to proceed with your matter.

A skilled criminal defense attorney can talk to you about your rights and can explain further about how a violation of a restraining order can affect your chances of getting the order lifted or removed.