Restraining orders are an easy way to convince courts to grant temporary orders for custody, support, possession of the house and cars, and ongoing financial support for house bills. While they are sometimes needed to protect victims of domestic violence, they’re now commonly used to give one party a leg-up in a divorce.
Most states have different types of orders. Each type has unique conditions that have to be met before a judge will make it permanent. These are the conditions you have to disprove to successfully fight a protection order request.
Check out our legal directory or call Legal Aid to find a lawyer to help you avoid being taken advantage of by a false filing. It’s possible to defend yourself, but there are a lot of ways to get tripped up — even when you’ve done nothing wrong.
Here are just a few of them:
- Not showing up to court.
In most states, a judge will grant a temporary order based on an alleged victim’s application. Then, a few days to a few weeks later you’ll have to meet before a judge who will decide whether to make the order permanent.
You must know when and where to attend the hearing. The judge might grant a permanent order by default if you don’t show up.
- Contacting the person who requested the order.
It’s not as simple as saying, “Don’t contact your ex,” because some women file for a protection order before officially ending their relationships. You might be completely blindsided by the notification. It makes sense to want to reach out, make sure there wasn’t a mistake, try to talk things out. Just don’t do it.
Violating an order can land you in jail (which may be just what she wants). It could convince a judge to make the order permanent (which, again, may be just what she wants). It can even wind up limiting the time you have with your children (ditto). It’s important to cut all contact with your child’s other parent as soon as you realize an order is in place.
- Responding to contact.
Because of how influential violating an order can be, the filer might try to bait you into breaking it. It’s common for women who’ve requested a protection order to contact you by text, phone, visiting your workplace or where you’re staying, reaching out through friends, and other activities the temporary order prevents you from doing. If you respond or refuse to leave, she can call the police and have you arrested. In fact, if you see her coming towards you, run, don’t walk, away. That she came up to you is not a defense – you will still be the one who ends up in jail. Unfair? You bet it is. But it’s real.
- Refusing to protect yourself.
Are you being harassed or baited? You might be able to press harassment charges or file for a protection order of your own. You can do those things without getting in trouble. Do your best to ignore her attempts at contacting you. Instead, call the police and talk to the professionals about your options.
In the best situations, an order automatically restricts both parties from contacting each other. Sometimes a woman doesn’t realize this when she reaches out, and she and her alleged abuser are both arrested when she tries this baiting tactic. Be proactive and keep yourself out of jail by informing the police instead of responding when someone with a restraining order against you tries to get in touch.
- Ignoring your obligations to your children.
It’s devastating when a protection order keeps you from your kids. It’s easy to get depressed and give up. As we’ve seen in the past, this can work against you in court. If your order allows for shared parenting time, contact someone who can act as a neutral third-party in child exchanges, such as your local law enforcement center, police station or sheriff’s office.
If you’re also barred from contacting your children, you can ask the police if you’re allowed to give them items to pass along to your family, like financial support, toys or supplies for the kids’ schooling. If not, you may have to go through a lawyer.
Unfortunately, filing a restraining order during divorce is a popular legal tactic because it works. You can do everything right and still wind up on the wrong side of a permanent restraining order, but you can do your best to avoid the most common problems.
Having qualified legal help you through this process is your safest course of action. You can find a father-friendly lawyer in our 50 State Legal Directory or by contacting Legal Aid in your community. You can also find advice on how to protect yourself against, and defend against, false allegations of abuse which lead to restraining orders in They’re Your Kids Too: The Single Father’s Guide to Defending Your Fatherhood in a Broken Family Law System.