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Should I fight a restraining order? What are my options?

Getting notified of a restraining order is a jarring experience, and understandably so. This notification means that someone has started taking steps to convince a judge that you are a danger to that person and/or your own children.  Even more so, the issuance of the restraining order means that the person who started this process has provided enough information for the courts to take the matter seriously enough to issue the order.

When you are first served with the order, It may be tempting to reach out to the person who applied for it, to try to smooth things over.  That would, however, be a terrible idea. Just one phone call, voicemail, e-mail or text message would be violation of the order.  In this way, one false move could mean that civil restraining order has led to a criminal arrest.

Restraining orders: What are the basics?

First, it is important to understand the basics. A restraining order is a court order that requires one person to maintain a certain distance from another person, business, and/or location. In order to get a restraining order against you, the requesting person needs to show the court that you attempted to cause or have caused them physical harm and/or that they have good reason to believe you will cause physical harm in the future.

The exact process can vary depending on the state. In Massachusetts, the person who wants a restraining order fills out an application at the courthouse — most often with the help of a victim-witness advocate.  Applications for restraining orders are processed quickly.  If the application is made during business hours, the person applying will be brought into the courtroom for an “ex parte” hearing with a judge.  “Ex parte” means the person appears alone — without the person against whom they want the order.  If the applicant persuades the judge that he or she is in reasonable fear of serious physical harm, the judge will issue the order.  If the order has been issued against you, you will receive notice either by phone or in person.  You will also be given a two-party hearing date, generally within ten days.  You can contest the restraining order at that two-party hearing, either with or without an attorney.  Given the potential for criminal allegations as a result of a restraining order, however, it is always better to hire an experienced attorney. At the two-party hearing, your attorney will have the opportunity to present evidence in your behalf, including witness testimony, medical records, police reports, and copies of text messages, e-mails and/or voicemails.

The next concern: How does this impact my life?

Many are under the false belief that a restraining order only impacts your freedom of movement, in that you are prohibited from going near the person who obtained the order against you. Although this is indeed the main purpose of the order, it is not the only negative impact. These court orders result in your name becoming listed in the Statewide Registry of Civil Restraining Orders. This can impact other areas of your life. For example, it could show up in an employer’s background search if they are considering you for a promotion — and that could certainly result in problems at work.  Of course, if you are unemployed and actively seeking work, the restraining order could cause you to lose opportunities that you might otherwise have.  This is just some examples of how a restraining order can have far-reaching impacts on your life.

Options for relief: How can I fight back?

It is important to take the two-party hearing seriously. The judge will scrutinize everything from when you arrive, to how you dress, and to how your evidence is presented.  Fortunately, you do not have to go through this process alone. Legal counsel can advocate for your interests and help prepare a strong defense against the restraining order.

A restraining order is not indestructible. It is a legal tool. You can use other legal tools to fight back and regain your freedom and reputation.

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