Family violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault are, unfortunately, highly prevalent crimes in Texas and around the country. These crimes may include repeated physical abuse, single acts of violence, verbal or emotional abuse, financial abuse, property destruction, rape, or other forms of sexual abuse. One in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
Protective orders, or orders of protection, exist to limit the offender’s contact with the victim(s), and define the legal consequences for the offender if he or she violates the order. There is often confusion about how a protective order differs from a temporary restraining order or injunction; below is a description of each, as well as the steps involved in filing for an order of protection.
What is a Temporary Restraining Order?
A temporary restraining order, commonly known as a “TRO,” is a type of emergency injunction that should be filed if you believe something harmful may happen before a final order or permanent injunction can be agreed to or issued by the judge at a Temporary Orders Hearing. A TRO lasts for two weeks or until the hearing, whichever comes first.
The filing party must attend both hearings for the judge to consider the merits of the case, although the original motion may be filed “ex parte,” i.e. without the other person’s knowledge, in cases of family or domestic abuse where the victim fears irreparable harm may occur before the offending party can be heard.
Temporary orders are different from temporary restraining orders, and remain in force while a family violence or divorce case is pending. These usually include parameters for temporary custody, child visitation, health insurance coverage, and spousal support, as well as the exchange of information such as financial and property information the judge will need to set terms for future child support and the division of assets. They also usually include temporary injunctions that are effective as long as the lawsuit is pending.
What is a Protective Order?
Protective Orders (POs) are usually granted in cases of domestic abuse, family violence, and sexual assault. These often remain in force for two years, but could be longer or even for life, and can be renewed by the judge. Orders will often include several provisions or stipulations, such as:
- Move-out orders for the perpetrator to leave a shared domicile;
- Orders to refrain from harming the victim any further;
- No-contact orders that prevent the offender from stalking the victim or communicating with them directly in any way, including by phone, text, voice mail, in person, or on social media;
- Orders against possessing or carrying firearms with or without a license; and/or
- Counseling requirements like attending domestic violence prevention classes or other programs – such as anger management or substance abuse treatment – as the situation warrants.
Depending on the facts of the case, some of these provisions may not be included, or there may be other provisions added that are not listed here.
As punishment for violating a protective order, the judge may hold the offender in contempt of court or order jail time, but this is done at the judge’s discretion.
The first step in getting a Protective Order (PO) is filing a motion in civil court. In order for such a motion to be granted, the injured party will be required to show that violence has occurred and is likely to continue. Victims should call the police to file a report immediately after each incident so there is documentation for the court to review, and write down exactly what happened so they can remember as many details as possible.
Other documentation that will help a judge decide to grant the PO includes:
- Threatening texts, social media posts, voicemails, emails or other messages
- Recorded phone calls or voice memo recordings (in states with one-party consent)
- Photos of injuries with dates and timestamps
- Videos of threatening or violent interactions and incidents, if they can be taken safely
After the motion is filed, the petitioner will be given a court date and the offender or abuser will be served with a notice to appear at the hearing.
Like TROs, motions for an order of protection may also be filed ex parte; however, judges are less likely to grant such orders without being able to hear from both parties unless there is compelling evidence of imminent and irreparable danger. This is one reason it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible if a victim is considering petitioning for a PO.
Victims can go to legal aid, a domestic violence shelter, or directly to the police to file a report, but a knowledgeable attorney can best offer explanations or advice about victim rights and options. Vonda Covington is experienced in both civil litigation and family law, with training in collaborative divorce and mediation. She can provide a caring and dependable voice during what could be an otherwise traumatic and confusing process.