A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a court order that’s aimed at preventing someone from taking particular actions but only for a certain amount of time. Most people associate TROs with domestic violence. However, these temporary orders may also address dangerous situations outside of your family such as stalking or sexual violence. And some TROs have nothing to do with violence or threats, such as the orders meant to maintain the status quo in a couple’s finances while a divorce case is ongoing. Here’s an overview of the common types of TROs and how they work.
A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a compelling legal option for anyone facing domestic violence. It is a court order that protects a person or persons from physical, mental, verbal, or other abuse. It can require the abuser to keep at least 100 yards away from the victim, enforceable by arrest. It can be filed against a spouse, ex-spouse, parent of a child, boyfriend, girlfriend, grandparent, or anyone else initiating harm. And under some circumstances it can prohibit the abuser from purchasing a firearm.
If you are facing domestic violence, there is help and there are legal steps you can take to pull you and your family out of harm’s way. If you are ready to take action and pursue a temporary restraining order, here are some important things to keep in mind:
• TROs are generally filed after an “ex parte” order from a judge. This requires the victim to complete a filing with the court and gives the abuser official notice so he/she can seek an opportunity to be heard.
• TROs can be filed by completing paperwork at a courthouse. Engaging an attorney is advised but not necessary to file for a TRO.
• TROs can be granted on the same day as filed.
• The TRO will stay in effect for 15-20 days, or until the court-ordered hearing “Order to Show Cause” to evaluate the TRO with both parties present takes place.
• The TRO must be served on the abuser, and can be done so by a marshal.
• The victim should keep copies of the TRO with them at all times.
• If the abuser violates the terms of the TRO, the victim should alert authorities immediately.
• During the “Order to Show Cause” the TRO may be extended to a permanent Restraining Order, may be cancelled, modified, or extended.
Temporary Orders to Prevent Domestic Violence
Under state law, people who are in danger of violence or abuse from a family member may request a court order meant to stop the abuse and protect the person asking for the order (usually known as the “applicant” or “petitioner”). Depending on the state, these orders go by different names, including domestic (or family) violence protective orders, injunctions for protection against domestic violence, or orders of protection.
If it appears to be an urgent situation, the judge may issue a temporary order that takes effect immediately but lasts only for a certain period of time. These TROs are sometimes called “ex parte” orders—a legal term for orders that a judge issues based only on the information in the request, without hearing from the person who’s the subject of the order (the “defendant” or “respondent”).
Who May Get a Domestic Violence TRO?
Historically, domestic violence TROs were limited to petitioners who are in danger of abuse from close relatives, including current and former spouses. But some states include more relatives than others. Also, many states have expanded the definition of domestic violence to include abuse between people in relationships beyond traditional families, such as:
• couples who live or lived together without being married
• parents who had a child together without being married
• people who live in the same house but aren’t a couple or related, and
• people who are or were recently in a serious dating relationship.
Even if you’re in a qualifying relationship with your abuser, your ability to get a TRO in your situation will depend on how your state defines abuse. In some states, your abuser must have already committed a crime against you like assault, stalking, threats of immediate violence, or criminal property damage. Other states allow protective orders in a wider range of situations. In Utah, for instance, abuse includes behaviors like making annoying phone calls, impersonating the victim online, and destroying the victim’s “mental or emotional calm.”
Can You Get a TRO Against Someone Not in Your Family or Household?
If you’re dealing with abuse or threats of violence in a situation that doesn’t involve family, household members, or other intimates, you might still be able to get a TRO. Some states have special laws dealing with TROs to prevent:
• harassment or stalking
• sexual assault
• elder or vulnerable adult abuse
• workplace violence, or
• gun violence (under so-called red flag laws).
As with domestic violence TROs, you may use a simplified procedure—when it’s allowed in your state—to apply for one of these orders (more on that below).
Temporary Restraining Orders in Divorce Cases
In the context of family matters, there’s another type of TRO that’s common in divorces. Although they might also address potential abuse, these TROs are more typically aimed at maintaining the status quo in a couple’s finances and access to their children while the divorce case is ongoing. For instance, TROs issued in divorces often prohibit either spouse from:
• selling, transferring, or otherwise getting rid of assets
• taking on large debts\changing the beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and the like
• removing the other spouse or children from health insurance
• canceling insurance policies, or
• moving children from the state without permission from the other parent or the court.
How Do You Get a TRO?
The procedure for getting a TRO depends on the circumstances and the law in your state.
Applying for a Domestic Violence TRO
In domestic violence cases, you can apply for a TRO directly with the court clerk (usually at the Family Court). You’ll need to fill out some forms. Most state courts have self-help centers that will provide information and assistance with the process. Some states, like Utah, provide the application forms and instructions online. Generally, you’ll need to give details about when the respondent has hurt or threatened you, as well as the specific orders you’re requesting. .
Of course, you should call 911 if you’re in immediate danger. After officers arrive, they might contact a judge and request an order for you. Otherwise, you might need to go to the court yourself once the police have defused the situation, taken the abuser into custody, or simply made sure you could leave. You can also call the police if you need an immediate order when the courts are closed, even if your abuser isn’t with you at the time (for instance, when you’re receiving threats of immediate violence over the phone). After investigating, officers will probably contact an on-call judge to request an order. The judge might want to talk with you before deciding whether to grant the request.
The judge who reviews your request will decide if a temporary order is necessary to protect your safety under the standards in your state and based on the information you’ve provided. For instance, judges in Texas will issue temporary ex parte protective orders if they find that there’s a “clear and present danger of family violence,” as that is defined under state law. If the judge decides that your situation doesn’t meet the requirements for a TRO, you may still be able to get a protective order. But you’ll have to wait for a hearing, and the respondent will have the right to be there and argue against the order.
Applying for Non–Domestic Violence TRO
In states with specific laws that allow protective orders in some non-domestic violence situations, like stalking and sexual violence, you should be able to apply under a similar, simplified procedure. However, the standards for issuing these orders are usually stricter than in cases of domestic abuse.
With some types of TROs, the victim or potential victim doesn’t actually apply for the order. For instance, employers may apply for workplace violence restraining orders to protect an employee from violence or threats at the workplace. And in some states, law enforcement or certain school employees may apply for a restraining order to prevent gun violence.
In situations that don’t involve domestic violence and aren’t covered by a special law in your state, the standard procedure is to file an Order to Show Cause (OSC) with the court and seek a TRO as part of your application. An OSC is way of getting your request in front of a judge relatively quickly. But you should know that preparing and filing an OSC ordinarily requires knowledge of court rules and regulations, so you’ll very likely need to get help from a lawyer.
When Do You Need to Apply for a TRO in Your Divorce?
In some states, as soon as one spouses files the initial divorce papers and serves them on the other spouse, standard TROs dealing with finances and related matters are automatically effective. These “ATROs” are usually spelled out in the divorce petition or other documents included in the paperwork. In other states, you must specifically request these TROs from the court where your divorce was filed. Most TROs remain in effect until there’s a hearing where the petitioner and the respondent may appear before a judge, present evidence, and argue for or against a longer-lasting order.
How Long Do Temporary Restraining Orders Last?
Most TROs remain in effect until there’s a hearing where the petitioner and the respondent may appear before a judge, present evidence, and argue for or against a longer-lasting order. The hearing generally must take place within a certain period of time—usually within about two or three weeks.
Some states allow emergency TROs that last even a shorter amount of time. In California, for instance, when a judge issues an emergency ex parte protective order to a police officer at a scene of domestic violence, the order will last for only five court business days or seven calendar days. Then, if you want a regular TRO that will last until the hearing, you’ll need to go to court and apply for it. TROs that are imposed as part of a divorce usually last until the divorce is final—which could be several months or even years in some cases.
What Should You Do When There’s a TRO Against You?
If a judge has issued a TRO against you, you’ll receive a copy of the order and a notice about an upcoming court hearing. The order will detail everything you are ordered not to do. It might also include actions you must take. It’s very important that you show up for the hearing, and that you obey the temporary order in the meantime. Violating a restraining order is a serious offense that could land you in jail. Even without that result, it would work against you at the hearing. Learn more about how to defend against a restraining order.
What If a Restraining Order Conflicts With Another Court Order?
If there are two conflicting court orders affecting the same person, the most recent order typically prevails. As a practical matter, the judge will probably be made aware of the potential conflict and will address it when issuing the current order.
For example, let’s say there’s been a custody order that calls for the parent who doesn’t live with the children (the noncustodial parent) to pick up and drop off the kids after visitation at the home where they live with the custodial parent. But later, a judge orders the noncustodial parent to stay away from the custodial parent’s home because of domestic violence or threats. That restraining order would take precedence over the previous custody order. In all likelihood, the judge would order an alternate method of pick up and drop off, perhaps having it take place at a neutral location with other people present, or even at a local police station.
The process to file a TRO begins the moment the victim reports any incidence of violence. Temporary restraining orders become effective as soon as they are served to the person who is being restrained by the order. Local police are responsible for serving the temporary restraining order to the alleged abuser.
The temporary order will remain in effect until the Order to Show Cause hearing, in which the court will review the facts in terms of the need for the order, and determine if there is a need for a long term restraining order. They will also determine how long the long term restraining order should last. It is common for a TRO to have a set expiration date; otherwise, it will usually last until the court hearing.
Some states place a limit on how long a restraining order can last, but do allow the court to issue a longer order depending on the circumstances. An example of this would be how in Texas, a domestic violence restraining order can only last for two years. However, the court can issue an order for longer if the abuser caused bodily injury, or committed a felony against the victim or another member of the family or household. Additionally, either party can ask the court for a hearing to modify, extend, or remove a restraining order.
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