The benefits and limitations of a restraining order
An order of protection (OOP; also called a restraining order) is a court order that limits contact between a victim and an abuser. An OOP may also prevent contact between the victim’s children and the abuser. An OOP is often sought by abuse victims when abuse escalates to the point where a victim feels unsafe or when a victim receives a threat.
Though all 50 states have statutes for orders of protection, the process for seeking and maintaining on OOP varies by state. If you are in danger or are being threatened, call the police or the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information about obtaining an OOP in your state.
Start at the courthouse
Getting an OOP means a trip to the courthouse. Once at the courthouse, you will need to show identification, complete all necessary paperwork, and wait to be seen by a judge. (Some domestic violence organizations offer abuse victims the option to apply for an OOP by video conferencing with the court.)
The judge may ask you questions about your allegations or may ask you to elaborate on specific examples of threats or abuse. The judge will either accept or deny your request for an OOP. If your OOP is accepted, the judge will decide between the following provisions of your order.
- No contact: A judge may order no contact between the parties, meaning that the abuser is not to contact the victim through phone, mail, email, or in person while the OOP is in effect.
- Stay away: The abuser will be required to stay a certain number of feet away from the victim at all times, even if the abuser or victim both happen to be in a public location.
- Limited contact: In cases where children still have time with both parents, there may be limited contact allowed between the victim and the abuser, such as text messaging or email. This type of communication is often limited to discussing only what is necessary for the care and well-being of the children, and it may not include discussion of the parents’ relationship and divorce process or any derogatory or abusive language.
The difference between an EOP and an OOP
An emergency order of protection (EOP) is a short-term no-contact order, usually lasting from three days up to two weeks, depending on the state. An EOP may be sought in cases where a victim needs an abuser to be removed from the family home or to establish a temporary period of no contact before the case can be heard by a judge.
An order of protection is a long-term order. Depending on the state and severity of the situation, an OOP will be in effect from one to three years, unless the victim chooses to legally dismiss it. In very severe cases of abuse, an OOP may last a lifetime, but this is incredibly rare.
The abuser has the right to contest the OOP
After an OOP is granted, the abuser will be served paperwork by the court. The abuser will have the right to contest the OOP in front of a judge and can request a hearing to dismiss the OOP. If your abuser requests a hearing, you will be notified of the date and time of the hearing. It is essential that you show up to this hearing.
Keep the OOP on your person at all times
If your abuser violates the terms of the OOP, he can immediately be arrested. In such a situation, the police will need to act quickly. They will need to see a copy of the OOP paperwork to prove that the abuser is violating the terms of the order. If the police have to searching the protective order database, this may slow down their response time. As such, it is essential that you keep a copy of the OOP on your person at all times.
Safety measures are paramount
After seeking an OOP, it is imperative that abuse victims take all possible safety precautions. An OOP draws a legal line in the sand, separating an abuser from his victim and sometimes from his children. Because abusers often regard their victims and children as property, abusers can become angry after an OOP is ordered and may even refuse to comply with the provisions. As domestic abuse advocates and police officers commonly say: an order of protection is just a piece of paper. This means that if an abuser wants to harm a victim, he may choose to do so despite being served an OOP.
So it is essential that you alert neighbors, friends, and family members to be on the lookout for strange cars, and you need to call the police every single time the OOP is violated—even in small ways, such as an email in a no-contact order or standing too close to you at the gas station.
Check firearms provisions in your state
In many states, it is a crime for an abuser with an active OOP against him to possess a firearm. This includes the purchase of new firearms as well as already-owned firearms. When you seek your OOP, make sure that the court knows of any firearms in the possession of the abuser. Depending on your state, he may be required to surrender any firearms to the police.
For additional resources, information, and support see our Domestic Violence resource section.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.