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What Can a Restraining Order Do?

A restraining order (also known as a “protective order”) can be as powerful as a court order or as flimsy as a piece of paper. You can’t hold it up in front of someone with a gun and expect it to protect you.

However, a protective order can serve a useful purpose, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, it’s important to know the five most common types of restraining orders a court can issue:

Workplace Violence Restraining Order

When an employer notices that an employee is being harassed, assaulted, stalked or otherwise threatened by a third party, that employer can request that the court issue an order restraining the perpetrator from coming anywhere near the place of business. The employee cannot ask for this type of restraining order, though he or she has other options.

Civil Harassment Restraining Order

This is a legal option for a person being stalked or harassed by an individual with whom they do not have a close, personal relationship (such as a neighbor, roommate, acquaintance, etc.)

Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse Restraining Order

This option exists for people who are over the age of 65, or under 65 but subject to a conservatorship or some disability that makes them unable to care for themselves. It can be filed against a caretaker, family member, or other person in situations where the elder or adult dependent is experiencing physical or financial abuse; neglect; harmful physical or mental treatment; or deprivation of basic human services.

Criminal Restraining Order

This type of protective order is usually sought by a criminal prosecutor, sometimes at the victim’s request, during the course of a criminal proceeding. It’s designed to protect a victim from the perpetrator of domestic violence (or some other harassing actions), while an abuse, battery or assault case is underway.

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

This is the most commonly filed of these different types of protective orders. Typically, it involves an individual with whom the protected person has a close relationship (as in a current or prior marriage, live-in situation, or just dating). It can also be sought on behalf of children, even if they are not the children of the perpetrator. It can restrain an individual pharmacy from doing certain things—such as making physical or verbal contact, stalking, threatening or otherwise disturbing the peace.

So is a restraining order effective?

The answer is yes, under certain conditions. In many cases, the threat of criminal prosecution for a violation of a restraining order is just enough deterrent to cease the abusive behavior. Additionally, if the restrained person isn’t a U.S. citizen, a restraining order against that person may affect his or her immigration status (and prosecution for a violation of the restraining order most likely will affect his or her legal status. Further, if law enforcement gets a 9-1-1 emergency call, they may jump a little faster if there’s a restraining order already filed against an alleged perpetrator.

Keep these tips in mind if you’re considering asking for a restraining order:

  • Details, Details, Details. Be very specific in relating the types of incidents involved—dates, times, locations, and a precise description of the action. Reporting that you were “hit on the left side of the face with his fist” is more effective than, simply, “he hit me.”
  • File Promptly. Ask for a restraining order promptly after an incident has occurred. If you delay and wait several weeks or months, the court may feel that the threat of abuse is no longer present, or wasn’t even there in the first place.

In my experience, a restraining order often serves as a good deterrent against future abuse or harassment. It’s not guaranteed to change the negative behavior, but can serve as a warning. But even with a restraining order in place, the person involved must remain alert and utilize the services of local law enforcement if they continue to be harassed.

If you believe you have grounds to request a restraining order, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney and make sure such an action is in your best interests.

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.