What happens if someone breaks a restraining order?

Q:

What happens if someone breaks a restraining order?

A:

A restraining order or protective order is one issued by a court that instructs a person to abstain from certain actions including physical threats, harassment or abuse. For example, a restraining order may be issued against an abusive spouse or stalker.

Restraining orders or temporary injunctions may also be used in civil cases to protect a business or the public from non-criminal actions that might be considered a public nuisance. Temporary injunctions, however, may become permanent injunctions after a court has reviewed the civil case.

Requesting a restraining order, enforcing a restraining order, establishing the relief from the order, and the penalties for not complying with an order can vary by jurisdiction and state.

When would I need a restraining order?

As mentioned above, the type of restraining order allowed in your jurisdiction may vary slightly from other jurisdictions. For example, depending on where you live, you may be able to request a no-contact order, domestic violence restraining order, an abatement order (to eliminate a nuisance), or a traditional restraining order.

It’s not unusual for one spouse in a divorce case to request a restraining order to protect themselves or their children from psychological or physical abuse from the other spouse. In fact, if your spouse is abusing, threatening or harassing you, and you believe that you or your children are in imminent danger, you may be allowed to get an emergency restraining order to ensure your protection.

Restraining orders can also be issued in a separation or divorce case if one spouse is depleting the marital assets and they need to be stopped. Not only can you issue a restraining order against your spouse, but you may also need to request an order against a third party (i.e., a bank or financial institution) that is assisting your spouse.

Finally, preliminary injunctions, which also govern a defendant’s actions, may be issued for reasons not related to divorce or abuse. For example, preliminary injunctions are frequently issued against businesses that sell products or items that are trademarked or patented by another company. In this case, the company that owns the patent or trademark may be forced to request a preliminary injunction to stop the sale of the patented product until the court can review the civil case.

What happens if a restraining order or preliminary injunction is broken?

Actions taken against someone violating a restraining order or preliminary injunction will depend on the type of order that was violated and the jurisdiction.

For example, if a business has requested a preliminary injunction to stop a person or another business from violating a patent, but that business continues to sell the product, the court has several remedies that it can enforce. The court can force the defendant to repay the plaintiff for their losses, they can force the business to pay royalty fees, or the court may force the defendant to pay additional damages or punitive damages for deliberately ignoring the law.

More frequently, however, when we discuss a restraining order, we are talking about an order that forces one person to stay away from another person. The order, however, is generally much more comprehensive and requires the ordered party to avoid all contact, including harassing or threatening actions.

So what happens if you violate a restraining order? A restraining order is a legal document and violating the order is a crime. If you violate the order, it’s likely that the person who requested the order will contact the police or the court. Depending on the violation, you could be immediately arrested. In other cases, however, a hearing may be scheduled and the judge will review the case to determine if you willfully and knowingly violated the order.

If the judge decides that you are in contempt of the order, you can face criminal penalties, including jail time and fines. Unfortunately, some violations of restraining orders in a divorce or separation can also affect your visitation and custody rights with your children.

Enforcing and Following the Restraining Order

If you have a restraining order against you, you must follow the order (even if the protected party tries to contact you). The good news is that most courts will not file contempt charges against you for minor violations, but instead will look for knowing and repeated violations.

What if you are the one who filed the restraining order, and it is not being followed? If you have requested a restraining order and you continue to feel threatened, you need to collect evidence proving the order has been violated.

For example, If the defendant comes to your home, frequently calls you, follows you, or continues to harass you, you will need to contact the police, get witness statements, call 911, or have other evidence of the violation. Documentation is important. Don’t be afraid to use technology such as GPS, voicemail or text messages to document the illegal contact.

In some cases, you may also need to talk to a lawyer and find out your rights and how to best protect yourself.

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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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