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Beware Family Court:
What Victims and Advocates Should Know

Part 4 - A Couple Tips on
Restraining Orders

Remember, when you apply for a domestic violence restraining order in family court, you are opening a family court case. When the judge grants you a TRO (temporary restraining order), the judge will simultaneously set a court date for the abuser to come to court and respond. It's at that time that the abuser will be given every opportunity to contest any of your accusations and to put forth any accusations he may wish to make against you. And the battle is on. Before you apply for a restraining order, be aware that this is the process you are opening. Think about whether this is going to turn out well for you or not. If there is an open criminal case against the abuser in which you are the victim, including if he is on probation, consider getting a criminal protective order instead of, or in addition to, a family court domestic violence restraining order.
  • Work on your restraining order statement before you write it into the record. The statement you write in your application for a restraining order is an official, sworn, declaration to the court. This declaration is a permanent part of the court record and it's available on the public record. It can also be brought into any future court proceedings, either to support you or to be used against you. So the statement you write in your restraining order application should be well thought out. It should be your best summary of your case against the abuser. So work on and write out your restraining order statement before you go into a restraining order clinic to fill out the papers!

    Many, many women go into a restraining order clinic, or pick up the application papers and dash off a quick statement at a coffee shop, without giving any thought to the permanence and significance of this statement. Critical points get left out that are very difficult to insert into the case later. If the restraining order declaration is weak, there are all kinds of ways the abuser can use this weak statement against her.

    This does not mean you have to cover everything in your restraining order statement. Like everything else you present to the court, it's good to remember that, Less is More. That way the judge is more likely to read it thoroughly.

    So here's one tip on how to keep the declaration tight, while at the same time leaving yourself open to filling in the details later. Throughout your declaration, use phrases like, "Among other things, John did x, y, and z." "On March 5th, and on other occasions..." "John said x......and other such threats." "My injuries were a broken finger and a black eye, among other injuries." In other words, always indicate that there is more that you have left out.

  • Keep your restraining order text focused on violence or threats of violence. When you request a restraining order, you are asking the judge to restrict another person's freedom. The law does not give the judge the authority to restrict someone's freedom because that person lies, sleeps with other women, is mean to the kids, stays out all night, swears, drinks, squanders money, or acts like a jerk. The law does give the judge the authority to restrict someone's freedom when there is violence or threats of violence. So even though the lies and the swearing may be very much a part of the abuse, they are not a basis for the judge to grant a restraining order.

Here are the key elements you should include in your restraining order text:

  • Start with a summary paragraph of why you need a restraining order. For example...."I am requesting a restraining order because I am trying to separate from my husband and I'm very afraid of him. For the last year his violence against me has escalated and a week ago he tried to strangle me. He has threatened to kill me on more than one occasion. He says, 'If you ever try to leave me, I'll hunt you down and kill you.' He has been arrested for domestic violence on x date, but was not convicted." (Always include the abuser's criminal history, including any violent history even if you were not the victim.)

  • Write a paragraph summary of the abuser's criminal record, especially as it pertains to his violence, threats of violence, illegal weapons, recklessness, and vandalism. Give specific case numbers and dates if possible. If there is a particular police report that spells out the abuser's violence or threats of violence, attach that report to your statement.

  • Write a paragraph about the most recent incident against you and a paragraph about the worst incident against you. Be sure to mention if the abuser has used, brandished, or owns weapons. Give complete quotes of threats to harm, kill, or kidnap. Include incidents of forced sex. Forced sex is violence. Always give dates as close to the actual time as possible. Don't forget to include the full extent of any injuries you sustained in these incidents.

  • Write a paragraph summarizing the overall history of abuse; how long it's been going on, your efforts to stop it, his broken promises, etc.

  • Write a paragraph about your custody wishes re your level of fear regarding the children and the abuser's violence, threats of violence, unsafe behaviors in regards to the children.

  • Write a paragraph about your level of fear of the abuser. Be specific about what you are afraid might happen to you or your children, and why you think he is capable of these acts.

  • Keep in mind, this is just a working guideline. Be sure and adjust this outline to your own needs and circumstances.

  • Immediately report each and every violation of the restraining order. This is so important to women's safety. But many women don't do it, often because they feel very embarrassed to report minor violations, or because they're worried the police will belittle them.

But look at this for a minute from the abuser's point of few. He gets served with the order by the Sheriff or by the court. He's told the terms of the order. There's no doubt he understands exactly what the order says and means. Then he picks up the phone and gives you a call to ask about the kids. Or he sends you a sweet card with a note that he misses you. What he's doing is defiantly testing the limits to see how far he can go. If he's allowed to get away with this, he'll almost certainly take it to the next step, and the next, and the next. It's also an indication that the abuser has no respect for the law or for your wishes, no matter how formally you may express them. And that poses a great danger to you.

So it's crucial that you put a stop to it immediately, no matter how innocent the act may seem if viewed under normal circumstances. Call the police right away. And if the officer reacts as if you're wasting his time, insist that the officer take the report, and then report him, too. It's true that many officers belittle what they consider to be minor violations of restraining orders. It's also true that many women have been killed after police have failed to take restraining orders seriously. This has happened so often, that many states have now passed laws that require police to make an arrest whenever a domestic violence restraining order is violated, no matter how minor that violation may appear in the mind of the officer.

So pick up the phone, dial 911, and report each and every violation of your restraining order to the police. And even if the officer takes notes on what you say, tell the officer
that you want to write out a statement that will go into
the report.

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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