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What is an order of protection and how do I get one?

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Question: What is an order of protection and how do I get one?

Answer: An order of protection (also called a restraining order) is an official legal document, signed by a judge, that is filed against a current or former family member or household member or other similar relationship. The order forces that individual to keep at a distance and is intended to prevent his or her abusive behavior toward you. Enforceable in court, it can be drafted to meet your specific needs as they apply to your situation.

How It Works
An order of protection can require the abuser to stay away from you and limit other forms of access; it can prevent the abuser from contacting you by phone, cell phone text messages, email, mail, fax, or third parties. It can force the abuser to move out of your home, give you exclusive use of your car, and award you temporary custody of your children along with child support, spousal support, and the continuation of insurance coverage.

If the order of protection is violated by the abuser - if he or she visits you at home, in the workplace, or anywhere else or makes phone calls, sends emails, or attempts to contact you, the abuser can be arrested and placed in jail.

How To Obtain One
To get an order of protection, you have several options. You can contact the state's or district attorney or inform the police that you wish to apply for an order of protection. You can also go to the county in which you or your abuser resides, and ask the court clerk for "Order of Protection" forms which must be filled out.

After the paperwork is filed, a hearing date will be set (typically within 14 days) and you will be required to appear in court on that day. The hearing may take place either in family court or criminal court. The judge will ask you to prove that you have experienced abuse or been threatened with violence. Witnesses, police reports, hospital and physician reports, and evidence of physical abuse or assault are often necessary to convince the judge to issue an order of protection. Physical evidence of abuse such as injuries caused by abuse or photos that show past injuries, property damage or objects used in the assault will help make your case.

How It Protects You
The order of protection provides you an opportunity to define your safety needs. If children are involved, you can request custody and restrictions on visitation or 'no contact' orders. Whenever the abuser violates the terms of the order of protection, you should call the police.

Once you obtain one, it is imperative that you make multiple copies of the document. It is important that you carry a copy of your order protection at all times, particularly if you have children and there are custody and visitation limitations.

Sources:

"Know Your Rights - Domestic Violence." American Bar Association, Division for Public Education, 2001.
"Obtaining an Order of Protection." Excerpted from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce" at FamilyEducation.com, 2002.
"Getting an Order For Protection." From Let's Wrap, newsletter of the Women's Rural Advocacy Programs, retrieved November 12, 2008.

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