What’s the Difference Between a Restraining Order and a Protective Order?

A restraining order (or injunction) is, generally speaking, an order by the court against a party to a civil lawsuit to prevent them from taking some action.  They are typically issued in divorce cases to restrain or enjoin the other party from damaging or wasting community property, cancelling insurance policies or utilities or taking on excessive amounts of new community debt.  A restraining order may be made into a permanent injunction by the court.  In family law cases, the person seeking the restraining order or injunction usually does not have to post bond.  In other types of civil cases, the court may require it.  If a restraining order or injunction is violated, the person violating it may be held in contempt by the court.

A protective order, on the other hand, is a court order issued when the court finds that domestic violence has occurred and is likely to occur again in the future.  They can be taken out by prosecutors or by private attorneys and apply against the victim’s spouse, a person with whom the spouse is or has been dating, or someone in the victim’s household.  Protective orders may also be taken out for children who are victimized or who witness domestic violence.  Usually, someone under a protective order must remain a specific distance from the victim, the victim’s family or the victim’s residence or place of business and may not threaten or harass the victim or keep a firearm.  It is a crime to violate a protective order.  Usually, courts will first issue an ex parte protective order (that is, an order issued without a hearing) which is good for 20 days.  A date will be set for a hearing where both sides can present evidence on whether or not the order should be extended for a maximum of two years.

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