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Protecting your rights when a restraining order is filed

If you have a volatile relationship with an intimate partner, a family member or even a neighbor or former friend, at some point you may be served with an order of protection— otherwise known as a restraining order. What you do after being served is crucial to the outcome of any pending litigation against you that's been filed or is pending.

Many people become enraged at the person who filed the order. While that reaction may be understandable, particularly if the individual lied to the court to obtain it, it's important to tamp down any thoughts of retaliation. This will only fan the flames of the dispute, land you in jail and essentially prove your adversary's case to the court. Below are some things to know about restraining orders.

They can be filed ex parte

Unlike most court orders, which are handed down only after legal proceedings have occurred, ex parte orders only require the petitioner and/or their attorney to go before the judge.

What that means is that a restraining order can be served on you out of the blue. True, most temporary restraining orders (TROs) follow a precipitating event. However, if the order was obtained on false pretenses, e.g., that you battered your spouse or girlfriend when all you did was argue, you may be caught completely unaware.

This does not leave you without legal redress in the long-term. You usually will have a hearing in the next few days to dispute the veracity of the petitioner's claims. The judge will either strike down the TRO or extend it as a result of both sides' testimony at this hearing. You may want to gather witnesses and legal counsel to improve your chances of a dismissal.

Watch your courtroom demeanor

The judge may have very little on which to base his or her decision, so maintaining a calm demeanor and neutral affect in court is very important. Rolling your eyes, visibly fuming, acting contemptuous toward your accuser or otherwise signaling that you may indeed be capable of what you stand accused of can only lead to more legal troubles for you.

What an order prohibits

Many, if not most, protective orders are "no contact" orders. And by no contact, the court means by any means, including via third parties or over social media.

You will typically be ordered to remain a specified distance from the petitioner and be forbidden from menacing, harassing or otherwise endangering them. This could mean that if you happened to be out at the neighborhood watering hole or your favorite restaurant when the petitioner shows up, it is you who must leave.

If the restraining order is part of a divorce action, the TRO may contain an injunction against the use or transference of marital property or forbid your taking your minor children out of the court's jurisdiction. Some might even prohibit you from making any changes to the named beneficiaries of insurance policies.

Take a TRO very seriously

Filing a restraining order can be the opening volley in a particularly nasty legal contest. You should immediately and proactively counter with your own measured legal response and remember to abide by the terms of the order for its duration.

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