Victims of harassment or domestic violence are often encouraged to obtain temporary restraining orders, but few understand the legal process to follow.
Sad to say, domestic violence is a tragic side effect of the ultimate breakdown in communication. An argument or disagreement escalates into uncontrollable rage, and the victim is often left feeling vulnerable and unprotected. The issue may not be resolved, but now there’s physical injury and verbal threats promising more violence.
Law enforcement officers may be hampered by the reluctance of the victim to press charges or by a lack of criminal evidence. Without a protective order from the courts, a victim can find him or herself at the mercy of an irrational spouse, lover or blood relative. Most states have laws against domestic violence, but enforcement of these laws often comes down to direct evidence of physical injury, not simply verbal harassment or veiled threats.
The most common solution to this legal catch-22 is a ‘temporary restraining order’, often shortened to TRO. A temporary restraining order is a legal document issued by a judge and served to the offender by a law enforcement officer. In essence, it forbids the assailant from returning to the scene of the assault until another hearing to show proper cause can be held. Violating the terms of a TRO is a crime in and of itself, and the violator can be arrested immediately for contempt of court. He or she does not have to commit any other criminal act except be physically present in an area covered under the temporary restraining order. Obviously a court cannot put up an impenetrable force field around the petitioner, but a TRO does give law enforcement officers legal leverage to arrest an offender.
Temporary restraining orders are most commonly sought in cases of domestic violence, but they can also be taken out during civil disputes as well. A judge can order one or both parties to cease an activity or avoid direct contact until the scheduled court date. Because TROs are by nature temporary, it’s more common in non-violent civil cases to seek legal injunctions which are longer in duration and can be very specific. TROs in civil cases are usually seen as emergency stops until a more permanent order can be issued.
In the case of domestic violence, only one party is needed to obtain a proper temporary restraining order. In most states, the process begins with a trip to the local courthouse, possibly city or county. The victim should be directed to an office which deals with temporary restraining orders specifically. He or she should be given some forms to fill out, usually with a designation of DV for domestic violence. This paperwork will ask for personal contact information, but the petitioner can ask that the offender not be given this information. The petitioner will be asked to detail the events which led to the seeking of a TRO. It’s best to be completely honest and detailed- a judge will base his or her decision based primarily on this statement. The completed paperwork will be forwarded to a judge, who will determine the validity of the complaint and decide if a temporary restraining order is required.
If the judge issues a TRO, the actual order, along with copies of the statement, will be served to the other party by a law enforcement officer. The temporary restraining order becomes effective on the day it was served. In general, this initial temporary restraining order will offer protection for no more than two or three weeks. The petitioner and the other party will be required to appear in court for another hearing to show cause for an extension of the temporary restraining order or a more permanent order of protection. Both sides can present their version of events, and can be represented by professional counsel. The judge can decide to extend the TRO for months or years, depending on the laws of that state, or issue a more permanent restraining order. He may also allow the temporary restraining order to expire, which means the alleged assailant is free to return to the home without penalty.
Experts suggest that a victim keep a copy of the TRO on his or her person so if another incident occurs, he or she will have the legal paperwork to prove a violation. It’s vitally important to document any injuries, threatening communications or medical treatments the victim may have received during the initial incident. The second trial to show cause is a legal opportunity to demonstrate that a pattern of violence does exist.
If the assailant had been arrested for assault and battery on the day of the original incident, the victim would still need to produce this evidence at trial.
A temporary restraining order is only one step towards resolving a violent domestic relationship, but it is an important one. No one deserves to be assaulted as a result of a disagreement. A TRO doesn’t have to mean the permanent end of a troubled but salvageable relationship, just a legal step to enforce a time out. Perhaps the receipt of a temporary restraining order may be the jolt an offender needs to realize the seriousness of his or her acts. If a TRO seems to escalate the underlying problem, then the victim may want to pursue a more definite path to independence. Anyone who would risk a lengthy prison sentence to continue a hostile relationship most likely has more issues to deal with than the victim could possibly understand. A temporrary restraining order can only protect a victim of domestic violence for a short time, so it falls on the partners or relatives themselves to come up with long-term solutions to their conflict.