Temporary Restraining Orders

Whether you're in a divorce, marriage or other relationship, you've got protection from domestic violence in the form of a TRO.

A temporary restraining order (TRO) or temporary protective order is a court order signed by a judge that requires someone to stop harming or stalking you. Depending on the state where you live, it may be called an injuction, order of protection, or something similar.

COVID-19 Update: The coronavirus outbreak has impacted how the courts and domestic violence organizations are able to operate. Read on to learn how their services are affected and what resources are still available to you while shelter-in-place orders are in place.

To obtain a TRO against someone who is abusing you, it is not necessary to have a domestic violence case pending in court. In most states, if you are subject to domestic violence, threats of domestic violence, or stalking, you may apply for legal protection.

How Can a TRO Help You?

If you are being physically or emotionally abused, threatened, stalked, harassed, or subject to other acts of violence, a TRO can help to keep the abuser away from you. After the judge signs the order and the abuser is notified of it, the abuser is restrained from all contact with you, your children, and other family members. The order will also extend to places such as your home, your workplace, your car, and your children's school or childcare facility. If the abuser violates the order, you can ask the police or the court to enforce it by reiterating the requirement to keep away or by putting the abuser in jail.

Who Can Be Restrained?

Typically, you may seek a domestic violence restraining order against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner or civil union partner, or any relative. If the person who is hurting, threatening, or harassing you does not fit into one of the covered categories, you may be able to get another kind of temporary protective order, such as a "civil harassment" order. Your local court can help you determine the proper forms to file.

How to File a Temporary Restraining Order

You must file your TRO petition in your county court. Many counties offer detailed online information about TROs, plus free downloadable forms, so you may want to begin your search for information at the county court's website. You can also visit the court clerk's office in person to get the forms and ask questions about the process. Some courts have self-help centers with staff trained to help you prepare and file your forms.

When you complete the forms, you will have to explain in detail what has happened and why you need the restraining order. Sometimes, a judge will want to ask you a few questions before signing the order. Include enough detail to let the judge know why the order is necessary, while also trying to keep it as short as possible, and make sure your explanations are clear and to the point.

Usually, there is no charge to file a petition for a domestic violence restraining order.

To learn more about how the law can help protect you from domestic violence, see our section on Domestic Violence & Divorce.

Getting Help During the COVID-19 Outbreak and State Lockdowns

Many police departments, domestic violence organizations, and news outlets have reported a spike in violence against women and children since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association and Josie Serrata, PhD, crises ramp up stress among couples and families and can lead to a rise in domestic violence and child abuse. Increased stress from financial problems, social isolation, and disconnection from social support systems are all risk factors for violence.

The COVID-19 outbreak has created a perfect storm of risk factors by causing:

If you're a victim of abuse, you are not alone, and you can still get help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides resources for those trying to flee abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown. You can go to www.thehotline.org or call 800-799-SAFE (7233) for assistance. You can also text LOVEIS to 22522 for help.

End Violence Against Children provides international resources to help protect children during this time.

The YWCA USA is the nation's largest provider of services and housing for domestic violence survivors. According to Alejandra Y. Castillo, CEO of the YWCA, domestic violence shelters are still open, but they've made adjustments to fight the spread of COVID-19. For example, at one facility in Nashville the YWCA is using RVs to house those who are sick or newly arrived. Ruth Glen, CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says organizations are doing more tele-advocacy and remote intakes, as well as spacing shelter beds farther apart.

Although courts around the country have temporarily closed and postponed hearings and trials, most family law courts remain open for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) requests. You can also contact a family law attorney for help—family law attorneys are working remotely in most states and remain available for phone or virtual consultations.

For More Help

If the process of seeking a TRO feels overwhelming, you can seek help from a domestic violence legal advocate, free of charge. To find a domestic violence program near you, ask the court or local sheriff's office for a referral. You can also find a state-by-state list of resources, including detailed information about TROs in your state, at WomensLaw.org.

When looking for help as a victim of abuse, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you're doing research or seeking help. Some victims, for instance, might use the same computer or device as the abuser or might have a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls they make and receive. Other kinds of technology, like home security cameras and GPS in phones and cars can also allow for monitoring by the abuser.

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