A restraining order is a legal injunction that prohibits one party from disturbing another, generally by forbidding all contact. While often a restraining order is meant to protect one party from an abusive or threatening person, it can cause complications when dealing with issues such as custody or divorce. Violating a restraining order can result in many different consequences, depending on the region and the type of offense, but can include fines, jail time, or increased restrictions.
Sometimes restraining orders are filed at the request of one party, but this is not always the case. In many cases, an instance of domestic violence results in an automatic restraining order on all parties. This order is generally seen as a cooling down period, and may last several days. Restraining orders are also automatic in some regions during or following a divorce process. In many cases, a person will choose to file a restraining order if they feel threatened, harassed, or endangered by another person.
If a restraining order is related to a divorce or separation where custody is shared, it is important to be clear about limitations. If a divorcing couple is sharing custody of children, a restraining order could technically forbid one spouse from walking the children to the door of the other spouse's home. If a child gets sick at one spouse's house, it could be a violation to contact the other spouse to let them know. To avoid violating a restraining order in these circumstances, it is important to have clear limits and exceptions for child protection and safety. A judge may choose to throw out this type of violation if it occurs, but could also decide to limit the violator's custody or take other punitive action.
The possible penalties for violating a restraining order may vary based on the circumstances of the violation. The offense may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on how the person violated the order, if there were mitigating circumstances, or if any harm or crime was committed while in violation. Penalties may include fines, jail time, or enforced community service, therapy, or anger management classes. If the order was issued as the result of a domestic violence incident, penalties may be harsher.
Violating a restraining order more than once can lead to far more serious penalties. In some regions, a mandatory jail sentence is issued for anyone who violates a protective order more than once. Fines may be significantly higher, and jail time can change from months to years with multiple violations.