Temporary Restraining Orders

Domestic abuse victims can ask the court to issue an order that directs the abuser to refrain from having any contact with the victim or the victim's children.

By , Attorney

A temporary restraining order (TRO) or temporary protective order (TPO) 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 injunction, order of protection, family violence protection order, 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 obtain a TRO against someone who is abusing you, it is not necessary to have a domestic violence case pending in criminal court. In most states, if you or your children are subject to domestic violence, threats of domestic violence, or stalking, you may apply for legal protection.

How Can a Temporary Restraining Order Help You?

If you are being physically or emotionally abused, threatened, stalked, harassed, or subject to other acts of violence, a TRO can help keep the abuser away from you. The order will direct the abuser to avoid all contact with you, your children, and sometimes other family members. These no-contact provisions typically 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. The police may arrest the abuser for a violation, and the court may impose criminal penalties (such as jail time) or hold the abuser in contempt for a violation.

But know that a TRO cannot ensure your abuser will leave you alone and should never replace a safety plan. Always stay vigilant to stay safe.

Who Can Be Restrained?

In many states, you can seek a domestic violence restraining order against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner or civil union partner, co-parent, 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 harassment or stalking protection order. Your local court can help you determine the proper forms to file.

How to File a Temporary Restraining Order

Typically, you must file your TRO petition in the district or county court where you or the abuser resides or where the abuse occurred. Many courts offer detailed online information about TROs, plus free downloadable forms, so you may want to begin your search for information at the district or 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 need 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 in your court petition to let the judge know why the order is necessary, while also trying to make sure your explanations are concise, 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 COVID-19

Many police departments, domestic violence organizations, and news outlets 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, Ph.D., 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. Below are links to resources where you can find help.

Victim advocacy organizations. 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. Find additional information or chat live at www.thehotline.org. You can also call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788 for help. End Violence Against Children provides international resources to help protect children during this time.

Family law attorneys. 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.

Courts. Find links to state court websites here. Even when courts temporarily closed their physical doors, they were still issuing TROs.

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, check out this list of local resources or 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.

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