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Know the Laws:

UPDATED June 12, 2012

Please select your state in the drop-down menu above to read about the restraining order laws in your state.

  • Restraining order laws are state laws and each state has different laws (also called a statute) that lay out the requirements for getting an order.
  • A restraining order or protective order is a legal order issued by a state court which requires one person to stop harming another person.  It is also sometimes called a protection order, an injunction, an order of protection, or some other similar name. 
Below is general information explaining what restraining orders are and how they can help you.

In general, domestic violence restraining order laws establish who can file for an order, what protection or relief a person can get from such an order, and how the order will be enforced.  While there are differences from state to state, all protective order statutes permit the court to order the abuser to stop hurting or threatening you ("cease abuse" provisions).  The majority of states' orders can also instruct the abuser to stay away from you, your home, your workplace or your school ("stay away" provisions).  You generally also can ask the court to order that all contact, whether by telephone, text messages, notes, mail, fax, email, through a third person, or delivery of flowers or gifts, is prohibited ("no contact" provisions). 

Some statutes also allow the court to order the abuser to pay you temporary child support or continue to make mortgage payments on a home owned by both of you ("support" provisions), to award you sole use of a home or car owned by both of you ("exclusive use" provisions), or to pay you for medical costs or property damage caused by the abuser ("restitution" provisions).

Some courts might also be able to order the abuser to turn over any guns, rifles and ammunition s/he has ("relinquish firearms" provisions), attend a batterers' treatment program, appear for regular drug tests, or start alcohol or drug abuse counseling.

Many jurisdictions also allow the court to make decisions about the care and safety of your children as part of your restraining order.  Courts can order the abuser to stay away from and have no contact with your children's doctors, daycare, school or after-school job and many courts can make temporary custody/visitation decisions.  Some can even issue child support orders within the restraining order.  You can also ask the court to order supervised visitation, or to specify a safe arrangement for transferring the children back and forth between you and the abuser ("custody, visitation and child support" provisions).

When the abuser does something that the court has ordered him/her not to do, or fails to do something the court has ordered him/her to do, s/he may have violated the order.  The victim can ask the police or the court, or both, depending on the violation, to enforce the order. The police can generally enforce the stay away, no contact, cease abuse, exclusive use, and possibly custody provisions - those that need immediate response.  If you are unable to call them when the violation occurs, they should take a report if you call them soon afterwards. In some cases, it might result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment. These types of violations can also later be addressed by the civil court, and it is often a good idea to bring them to the court's attention.

Other violations are not easily enforced by the police, such as failure to pay support or attend treatment programs - those are better enforced by the court.  If you file a "motion for contempt" in the court that issued the order, explaining how the abuser violated the order, the court will hold a hearing to determine if the facts prove that the abuser violated the order.  If the court finds a violation did occur, the judge will determine a penalty.  Depending upon the laws of your jurisdiction and the nature of the violation, the penalty might be a finding of contempt, which could result in a fine, jail time or both.  The violation might also be a reason for the order to be extended or modified in some way.

Please select your state from the drop-down menu at the top of this page to read about the specific laws in your state.

Thank you to Valerie Despres for her help in writing this section.

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