Restraining Order and Protective Order—What’s the Difference?
If you find yourself facing domestic violence charges, chances are that you will also be up against one of two court orders: either a restraining order or a protective order (or “order of protection”). If you’re facing either of these orders, it’s important for you to know what they mean and the ways in which they are similar and different so that you will be able to understand how they could affect your life.
A restraining order is probably the one that most people are more familiar with, if only because it’s the one that gets mentioned more in popular media, including TV shows and movies. But TV shows and movies probably are not giving people the right idea when it comes to restraining orders.
Restraining orders are actually relatively limited in what they can accomplish. These orders usually come with expiration dates (usually up to six months after they’ve been served, or, if the restraining order is accompanying a divorce proceeding, until the divorce is finalized). Most importantly, restraining orders do not come with built-in security. In other words, they are not enforced by law enforcement.
Orders of Protection
When it comes to domestic violence and domestic battery cases, orders of protection actually offer the most security and thus they are the legal orders that most commonly accompany domestic violence charges.
Orders of protection can:
- Forbid actions (e.g., forbidding abusive acts or forbidding you from contacting certain people)
- Order actions (e.g., ordering that you stay away from certain locations or ordering that you attend counseling sessions)
- Make decisions regarding child custody (e.g., demanding that you pay child support or demanding that you only visit the child on weekends)
- Make decisions regarding shared property (e.g., demanding that you move out of a shared apartment)
Unlike restraining orders, orders of protection are enforced by law enforcement. If a person goes against the conditions of a protective order, he or she could be subject to criminal charges.
What to Do If You’re Served with Either Order
Since both restraining orders and orders of protection are served by the court following an appeal written by an accuser, both orders can come as total shocks to the person at the receiving end of the order (the “respondent”).
If you’re served with either a restraining order or an order of protection, make sure to follow these steps:
Understand the implications. If you find yourself facing a restraining order or an order of protection, the most important thing you must do is realize the severity of the allegations. Even if they seem unfounded or unfair to you, and even if you maintain that no physical abuse ever actually took place, the allegations are serious and are not to be taken lightly. It’s important that you stay calm and call a qualified criminal attorney as soon as possible, especially if you feel that you have been unfairly targeted.
Follow the rules. If you’re served with either an order of protection or a restraining order, you must obey all of the conditions stated in the document. If you violate any of the stipulations, you may find yourself in serious legal trouble.
Appear in court. Both of these orders will come with a court date, at which point you will be able to stand before a judge and plead your case. When your court date arrives, you must appear. If you do not, you forfeit your right to defend yourself and the judge will be able to make a call based on nothing but the accuser’s testimony. You will not get to argue against any decision that the judge makes.
Luckily, you can hire an attorney to represent you at the court hearing. A knowledgeable, skilled trial lawyer will help ensure that you stay out of trouble and are not unfairly convicted.
After the Trial
Once the trial is over, you will need to follow the terms of the order as determined by the judge. Failing to do so could result in even worse penalties.
It’s important to know, though, that even if the judge rules against you, you can still fight. There may be a chance to appeal a judge’s sentence, but the details of appeals processes can be long and complicated. If you’re unsatisfied with a judge’s decision following a domestic abuse case, consult with a lawyer to find out how you may be able to change your situation.
Both restraining orders and orders of protection are extremely serious and can severely impact your life for years to come. If you’ve been served with either of these, the best thing to do is start setting up a defense right away.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.