by Attorney Matthew Sharp
If you have reached the point of filing a restraining order, here are some tips to help you prepare for the process. The courts want to help you. If you follow these tips, you will have a higher likelihood of obtaining your restraining order to protect yourself.
Legal proceedings are not a typical occurrence for most people. They can be stressful at a time when you have a great deal of anxiety already. However, the proper preparation will take away some of the strain while creating a relevant legal file that leaves the court in no doubt of your need.
Tip #1: Do NOT Wait to File
The first and most important tip for filing a restraining order is to do it as soon as possible. The incident must be within the past 30 days for the court to take your request under consideration. Anything more than 30 days is no longer considered current; without a claim of current abuse, the judge will not be able to provide the order.
Keep every bit of evidence that demonstrates harassment, threats, abuse, or intent to cause you harm. You will need it to prove your case.
- Text messages, emails, and voicemails
- Social media posts such as those from Twitter and Facebook
- All correspondence containing statement of harm or intent to harm
- Copies of police reports, 911 transcripts, and witness statements
- Medical reports of injuries from the abuse, dated photos of injuries, the disarray in your home after an episode of domestic violence, weapons used and items broken
Run a background check on your attacker to learn of previous criminal convictions and obtain certified copies through the clerk of criminal court. Gather as many witnesses as you can find to support your testimony and try to bring at least one with you to your hearing.
Even if you have no evidence of the sort listed above, do not hesitate to file; the strength of your testimony alone may be enough to grant you a restraining order.
Tip #2: Learn about the Process of Filing in Your State
The requirements and process for filing a restraint order are similar from state-to-state, but you need to ensure you are following all the correct procedures for your state. Some parts of the process differ from one state to another, and you want to create a solid case for yourself with the right elements in the right order at the right time.
Check with local help centers for domestic violence for assistance in filling out forms and other process-oriented activity. These centers cannot provide legal advice but have the experience necessary to help you complete the requirements for filing.
Tip #3: Hire an Attorney as Soon as Possible
As early in the process, as you can manage it, you should hire an attorney. While not strictly necessary, an attorney can act as another pillar of support along with your witnesses, family, friends, and support groups.
Find an attorney with restraining order experience who you can communicate with before the hearing. Ask questions and prepare for any that may be asked of you in court. The attorney can lead you through the process and help you draft your statement, file in the correct order, and put together your testimony for an effective and persuasive presentation in front of the judge.
Tip #4: Write Down Everything
You have the burden of legal proof and the obligation to present credible and substantial evidence proving your case. Performing due diligence and quickly gathering evidence will make it easier to put your story together.
Before dashing off a statement for the record, make a few drafts and polish your statement. Your statement becomes part of the permanent court record and should contain all critical information. It doesn't need to cover everything, but it should include all relevant information put together thoughtfully and coherently.
- Keep the focus on violence or threats of violence.
- The judge cannot grant a restraining order for any other reason.
- Reports of adultery, drinking, swearing, and other behaviors that are not violent have no place in the statement.
- However, you may include things that are not technically harassment but scared you all the same.
Do make the point that the violence or threat of violence upset you. In some states, the legal definition of harassment includes the requirement that the actions not only occurred but they upset you.
Tip #5: Practice What You Want to Say
You must remain calm as possible in front of the judge. Practicing and rehearsing your story will make it easier to keep your cool while making a clear, concise statement using just the facts. You cannot embellish your story, speak about non-relevant matters, or take up the court’s time with a long speech. Be ready to answer all questions clearly and concisely.
Another reason to prepare (and for retaining a lawyer) is that your attacker may appear at your hearing, potentially with his or her own lawyer. You are facing a person who has already created fear in you; preparation can keep you from getting rattled by the presence of someone who harmed you or threatened to harm you.
We hope these five tips will help you through the process of obtaining a restraining order. There is little in life as agonizing as being made to feel unsafe, particularly by a domestic partner with whom you shared an emotional attachment.
Remember, you are not at fault in any way. However, it is up to you to provide a clear and compelling narrative of violence or the threat of violence toward you that upset you and include as much evidence as you can find.
Even without evidence, prepare your testimony concisely, with all the facts, and you have a good chance of obtaining a restraining order.