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A court order is a legal document signed by a judge or magistrate that legally obligates someone to do something or refrain from doing something. The process to get a court order varies by jurisdiction, but, in the United States, an individual must first file a petition, complaint, or motion. The purpose of the order sought will determine which document must be filed. The opposing party will be given an opportunity to respond to the petition, complaint, or motion in writing or at a hearing. The judge or magistrate will then decide whether or not to issue the requested order.
To get a court order for things such as a no contact order, a name change, a release of seized property or custody, the person requesting the order usually files a petition. A petition contains the name of the petitioner and respondent, as well as the facts as alleged by the petitioner. At the end of the document, the petitioner must ask the court to order the relief sought. For example, if the petition is for custody, the petition will ask the court to order custody of the child to the petitioner.
A complaint is used to obtain a court order for situations such as a personal injury case, a landlord-tenant dispute, or breach of contract. A complaint will also contain the name of the parties and the allegations asserted by the petitioner that are intended to convince the judge or magistrate to issue the order requested. For instance, a complaint for damages in a landlord-tenant dispute could result in the judge ordering the respondent to pay a monetary damages award to the petitioner.
Filing a motion is another way to get a court order. Motions are used in both civil and criminal cases for a variety of reasons. In a criminal case, a motion to reduce bail or a motion to exclude evidence might be filed by the defendant. In a civil case, the petitioner may file a motion to produce documents or a motion for summary judgment. If the judge finds in favor of the petitioner's motion, then an order will be entered to that effect.
A hearing is frequently required to get a court order. At the hearing, the judge will allow both sides the opportunity to present evidence and make arguments in favor of, or in opposition to, the requested order. In some cases, however, a judge will make a decision based solely on the petition, complaint, or motion, and any answer filed by the respondent. In either case, the court order will be in writing and entered into the official court records.