There are a number of common confusions regarding protective orders and how and why to seek one, and even what a protective order can do.
Protective orders are the main mechanism that the court system uses to protect people from other people. As opposed to a stay away order, a violation of a protective order is a criminal act resulting in potential jail time in and of itself. This gives the police the authority to arrest an offender simply on the basis of violating the order.
Protective orders can be granted when family violence has occurred, and is likely to occur again. The wording of this makes it seem as though physical violence is a requirement, however, this is not always the case.
The law allows for threats of violence to be considered family violence for the purpose of a protective order depending on the level of the threat and the likelihood that the person will follow through on their threat. Some of these things are open to interpretation and it will depend on the judge’s interpretation whether the situation rises to the level necessary for a protective order.
If this applies to you, and you think that you need to apply for a protective order, there a number of options available. First of which is the county attorney’s office, which is often located in or around the courthouse itself. In most areas, they can represent you free of charge if you meet their set of criteria. Additionally, many domestic violence shelters have victim’s advocates who are well acquainted with the system and may be able to assist you pro se. Finally, you can seek the assistance of a private attorney, who can often help in situations where the county attorney can’t or won’t.
The process itself is not overly complicated. Usually, there will be a temporary ex parte hearing very quickly after filing the application itself with the court, so be prepared to be present in court. The key factor for this hearing is to express to the judge the immediacy of your situation, and why your safety may be at risk RIGHT NOW, as opposed to sometime in the future.
After this hearing, there will be a more formal protective order hearing in which the other party will be served. At this hearing, potential evidence will be put forward, and the judge will decide whether or not a longer term protective order should be granted. Again, the legal standards of this hinge on whether or not family violence has occurred, and whether or not it is likely to happen again in the future. If it is granted, it usually lasts for a period of a year, and requires the respondent to stay at least 200 yards away from the protected people and their residence/school/work/etc.
One important thing to keep in mind throughout this process, and even afterward, is to protect yourself. A protective order can be powerful, but it is equally important to make sure to take steps to protect your own physical safety. Make sure you have a plan in mind for what to do in a number of scenarios to decrease the likelihood of panic if one of those situations happen to occur. Domestic violence shelters are available almost everywhere, and they will have resources to help you make these plans and decisions. In the end, a protective order is just a tool. It can help you keep yourself and your family safe, but it is important to keep the whole situation in mind as well, and have as many tools in your arsenal as possible.
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