A protective order is also known as a restraining order and is processed differently in each state. In every state, the purpose of the protective order is to prohibit a person (the respondent) from abusing, contacting, or approaching the person filing the complaint (the petitioner). When a respondent is served with a temporary protective order, a mandatory court date is set. At a later hearing, the temporary protective order will either be made permanent, granted for a period of usually one to two years, or defeated.
Retain a lawyer before the first court date to maximize your chances of fighting the order. If you cannot, tell the judge that you would like to "retain counsel," and you will be given time to find a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, find a local legal clinic for free legal advice or contact the family court for a summary of your state's specific laws.
Prepare a defense with the understanding that the only legitimate defense is that the facts cited by the petitioner in the complaint are not true. Discredit untrue statements in the affidavit by finding documentation that can disprove them or presenting witnesses at the hearing who can corroborate your version of events.
Challenge the inconsistencies and false statements in the complaint by questioning the witness at the hearing. You or your lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine the petitioner during your hearing. If you are representing yourself, keep in mind that there are specific rules about questioning you may be unaware of, so prepare your questions well before the trial in accordance with these rules.
Prove that you are gainfully employed, educated, and a law-abiding and productive member of society. If you do not have proof that the petitioner is lying, it's your word against hers and it is important to establish credibility. If you have never been in trouble before, then you can state that you do not want your record to be smeared by untrue allegations.
Focus on preventing the protective order from becoming permanent in the first place. If the order is issued, it will generally lapse in one to two years, after which it may be renewed if the petitioner wishes. In some states, you can file an appeal with the appeals court.
Tips & Warnings
- Alert the judge to circumstances that would make a protective order especially difficult to obey (e.g., joint custody of children or a shared residence or business).
- You can ask to see the original petition and affidavit in the records department of the court they were filed in. You will need your file number and docket number, which should be in the papers you were served with.
- If the permanent protection order is granted, you will have to abide by all of its clauses. A violation of a protective order will result in criminal charges.
- The petitioner or his lawyer can cross-examine you at the hearing if you testify.
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