Restraining order

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Not to be confused with restraint order, which freezes a person's assets and bank accounts in relation to suspected proceeds of crime (UK law).
Not to be confused with "civil restraint orders", which prevent a person from commencing vexatious litigation (UK law).

A restraining order or order of protection is a form of court order that requires a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts. These orders flow from the court's injunction power to grant equitable remedies. A party that refuses to comply with an order faces criminal or civil penalties and may have to pay damages or accept sanctions. Breaches of restraining orders can be considered serious criminal offences that merit arrest and possible prison sentences. The term is most commonly used in reference to domestic violence, harassment, stalking or sexual assault. In the United States, every state has some form of domestic violence restraining order law,[1] and many states also have specific restraining order laws for stalking[2] and sexual assault.[3]

Restraining and personal protection order laws vary from one jurisdiction to another but all establish who can file for an order, what protection or relief a person can get from such an order, and how the order will be enforced.

When the abuser does something that the court has ordered him or her not to do, or refuses to do something the court has ordered him or her to do, that is a violation of the order. The victim can ask the police or the court, or both, depending on the violation, to enforce the order.

Restraining order provisions[edit]

All protective order statutes permit the court to instruct the abuser to stay a certain distance away from someone, their home, their workplace or their school ("stay away" provisions) and to not contact them (no one really knows what the law's stance if the abuser stays in one place and the victim moves into the area). Victims generally may also ask the court to order that all contact, whether it be by telephone, notes, mail, fax, email or delivery of flowers or gifts, be prohibited ("no contact" provisions). Courts can also instruct the abuser to not hurt or threaten someone ("cease abuse" provisions).

Some states also allow the court to order the abuser to pay temporary support or continue to make mortgage payments on a home owned by both people ("support" provisions), to award sole use of a home or car owned by both people ("exclusive use" provisions), or to pay for medical costs or property damage caused by the abuser ("restitution" provisions). Some courts might also be able to instruct the abuser to turn over any firearms and ammunition he or she has ("relinquish firearms" provisions), attend a batterers' treatment program, appear for regular drug tests, or start alcohol or drug abuse counselling.

Many jurisdictions also allow the court to make decisions about the care and safety of any children. Courts can order the abuser to stay away from and have no contact with the children's doctors, daycare, school or after-school job. Most courts can make temporary child custody decisions. Some can issue visitation or child support orders. A victim can also ask the court to order supervised visitation, or to specify a safe arrangement for transferring the children back and forth ("custody, visitation and child support" provisions).

Burden of proof and misuse[edit]

Misuse of restraining orders is claimed to be widespread. Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, has remarked, “Everyone knows that restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply…In many cases, allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage.”

The low burden of proof for restraining orders has led to some high-profile cases involving stalkers of celebrities obtaining restraining orders against their targets.[citation needed]


Experts disagree on whether restraining orders are effective in preventing further harassment. A 2010 analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law reviewed 15 U.S. studies of restraining order effectiveness, and concluded that restraining orders "can serve a useful role in threat management". However, a 2002 analysis of 32 U.S. studies found that restraining orders are violated an average of 40 percent of the time and are perceived as being "followed by worse events" almost 21 percent of the time, and concluded that "evidence of [restraining orders'] relative efficacy is lacking", and that they may pose some degree of risk.[4] A large America-wide telephone survey conducted in 1998 found that, of stalking victims who obtained a restraining order, more than 68 percent reported it being violated by their stalker.

Threat management experts are often suspicious of restraining orders, believing they may escalate or enrage stalkers. In his 1997 book The Gift of Fear, American security specialist Gavin de Becker characterized restraining orders as "homework assignments police give to women to prove they're really committed to getting away from their pursuers", and said they "clearly serve police and prosecutors", but "they do not always serve victims". The Independent Women’s Forum decries them as "lulling women into a false sense of security", and in its Family Legal Guide, the American Bar Association warns “a court order might even add to the alleged offender's rage".[5]

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman's three children by her estranged husband.


United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, a non-molestation order is Part IV Section 42 of the Family Law Act 1996.[6] Non molestation orders are a type of injunction used to protect a partner or ex-partner from hurting, intimidating, harassing, etc., you or your children. In the UK, breaching this order is a criminal offence.[7] Under the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act, 2004, same-sex couples experiencing same-sex domestic violence and abuse[8] are able to get protection with a non molestation order. When in conjunction with domestic violence, the non molestation order is granted under legal aid irrespective of income.[9]

United States[edit]

Restraining orders may also be enforced across state lines, in accordance with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution[10] via the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.[11] Some states (for example, Mississippi[12]) may also call a restraining order a peace bond and are similar to ASBO laws in the UK. Minnesota law provides for an Order for Protection (OFP) and a Harassment Restraining Order (HRO).[13]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]