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wiseGEEK: How can I get a Restraining Order Against Someone?

The actual process of obtaining a restraining order can vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there are some common rules and procedures to follow. There are essentially two different schools of thought when it comes to the nature and scope of a typical restraining order. One is considered protection against harassment. while the other is considered an order of protection. The differences between the two can be confusing, so many experts suggest consulting with a legal advocate before seeking a restraining order.

If you believe you are in imminent danger of bodily harm from someone you know, the first step may be to call 911 or whatever your local law enforcement emergency number is. The responding officer can guide you through the process of obtaining a restraining order, although there may be a lapse in time before the order can be legally enforced. If you can get yourself to a domestic violence shelter, an advocate there should also know the proper procedure for obtaining the order.

In general, obtaining a temporary restraining order begins with filing a claim at a local courthouse. The court clerk should give you some forms to fill out, which basically provides the court with your complete identification, contact information, and a detailed report of the incident(s) which prompted you to take action. The clerk may also ask for any corroborating evidence of harassment, threats or bodily harm. You'll want to bring photographs of injuries, copies of threatening communications or official incident reports. Be sure to provide as much contact information on the offender as you can.

Once you have filled out the required forms and provided evidence to the clerk, a judge will consider

your petition for a restraining order as soon as his or her schedule allows. If the judge is convinced that a restraining order is required immediately, he or she will issue a temporary order of restraint called an ex parte restraining order. This type of order is generally valid for a short period of time, generally about two weeks or so. The court should provide a hearing date in which the temporary restraining order could be extended for as long as two years, depending on local laws.

Obtaining a restraining order from a judge is only the beginning of the process. A marshal or an authorized deputy must present a copy of the order to the offender before the terms can be legally enforced. If the offender should return before the order is properly served, the order could be considered invalid. Quite often, however, law enforcement officers will be waiting at the complainant's home to serve the order. Otherwise, the marshal will deliver the order to the contact address listed on the forms. The complainant will be contacted once the order has been properly served.

A restraining order is actually a legal matter between the judge and the offender, not between the two parties themselves. If the offender violates the terms of the order, even in the slightest way, the complainant has the right to call for legal protection. Typically, the offender is prohibited from communicating with the complainant or appearing within a specified distance of the complainant's home or workplace. If you have other family members who may also feel threatened by the offender, you may need to pursue a separate restraining order for each of them.

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