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Restraining Orders to Prevent Violence or Harassment

Those unfortunate enough to be the victims of actual or threatened violence or harassment are usually frightened and often don’t know where to look for assistance.  Whether the violence or harassment is by a former or current cohabitant, family member, co-worker, or complete stranger, the results can be devastating for the victim and the victim’s family. 

Although a restraining order in itself does not guarantee security from future violence or harassment in all cases, such an order does typically send a strong message to the perpetrator and provides law enforcement and the courts an important tool for keeping a victim safe.  However, the prospect of going to court can be intimidating for many victims, especially those who have little or no experience with the court system.  Fortunately, the laws in the State of California make the process relatively simple and inexpensive.

The most frequently used restraining orders are the Domestic Violence Restraining Order (“Domestic Order”) and the Civil Harassment Restraining Order (“Civil Order”).  Which one a victim seeks depends on the nature of the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim.  The good news is that whether a victim needs a Domestic Order or a Civil Order, the law provides for a fairly simple process that is made even easier by the availability of fillable forms with instructions available on the State Courts website.

Domestic Orders

Domestic Orders may be sought where the perpetrator is a current or former cohabitant, current or former spouse, family member, other person in a “close relationship.”  An applicant may also seek protection for others such as children or other family members.  The Domestic Order does not apply to current or former roommates where the relationship is not a “romantic” relationship.  In San Luis Obispo County, Domestic Order applications are generally assigned to a family law judge.

The forms necessary to request a Domestic Order are available here under “Domestic Violence Prevention.”  A good place to start is form DV-500-INFO, which contains information about the availability of Domestic Orders and what paperwork is necessary to request one.  The forms necessary to request a Domestic Order can be filled out on line and printed or printed and completed in type or even filled out in pen.  Once completed, the forms must be filed with the court.  The court does not charge a fee for this filing.

After the paperwork has been completed and filed, the victim will appear for a court hearing.  At this first hearing, the perpetrator will generally not be present.  The judge will decide, based on the victim’s paperwork, whether a temporary restraining order should be issued.  If it is issued, the temporary order will remain in effect until a hearing where the perpetrator will have an opportunity to present his or her side of the case. 

Hearings on Domestic Orders are generally less formal than traditional evidentiary hearings on civil or criminal matters.  Judges have a lot of room to decide what evidence will be considered.  If the judge believes the request is supported by sufficient facts, a Domestic Order will be issued.  If the judge does not believe a Domestic Order is warranted, the temporary order will terminate.

The court website contains important information about the type of conduct that may be restrained with a Domestic Order and other relief that the court may grant.  It also contains information on how each side should prepare for the hearing and what information may be used at the hearing.  Although the court website advises that “it is a good idea” to be represented by a lawyer, inability to obtain a lawyer should in no way deter a victim from seeking a Domestic Order.  The process has been simplified precisely to ensure that victims are able to seek an order without substantial effort and cost.

Civil Orders

The process for seeking a Civil Order is very similar to the process for seeking a Domestic Order.  However, a Civil Order may be obtained to prevent harassment or violence by someone with whom the victim has not had a “close relationship.” This might include people such as a neighbor, a co-worker, a former friend, or even a complete stranger who is harassing or threatening someone.  In SLO County, applications for Civil Orders are generally assigned to a judge assigned to the civil department.

The forms that will allow someone to seek a Civil Order are also available on the court website under the heading “Civil Harassment.”  Form CH-150 is a good place to start, as it provides information regarding the protection available, the forms to be completed and filed, and information to assist in preparing for hearings.

Conclusion

Recognizing that victims of violence and harassment may be reluctant to seek help if it is too difficult or costly, the State of California has provided a relatively easy and inexpensive method to seeks an order preventing further harassment or violence.  Victims shouldn’t let fear or lack of knowledge of legal papers or the court system deter them from taking steps to protect their own safety and the safety of family members.

Mike McMahon – mmcmahon@carnaclaw.com