What Happens If Someone Violates a Restraining Order

If you feel threatened, harassed, or have been stalked by an ex-partner, friend, business associate, or another individual, you may file a restraining order against the person. Also referred to as a protective order, a restraining order lays down legal directives that regulate the person’s ability to contact or interact with you. Depending on the conditions and language of the restraining order, the individual may not be able to come within a certain physical distance from you, or contact you by phone or electronically.

Restraining orders are court-ordered and if a person violates these orders, they could face strict legal consequences. Even with these consequences in place, an average of 40% of restraining orders are violated in the United States. Since each state has its own restraining order laws, the consequences an individual faces when they violate these orders may vary. Whether you’re named in a restraining order case or you’re a protected person, it’s important to know the consequences that apply if the order is violated.

Ways a Restraining Order May Be Violated

When a “no contact” restraining order is in effect, it’s illegal for the individual named in the order to contact the protected person. The ways in which an individual can violate a restraining order depends on the specific orders the court enforces and the personal situation between both parties. Generally, a restraining order is violated when the named individual in the order:

  • Refuses to move out of the home where the protected person lives;
  • Re-visits the home where the protected person lives;
  • Makes contact with the protected person, by text message, phone call, social media, or in any other form;
  • Stalks the protected person and confronts them in public;
  • Visits the protected person’s workplace;
  • Comes within a specific distance of the protected person.

Individuals who are named in a restraining order may be tempted to make contact with the protected person out of anger, frustration, or to attempt a reconciliation. If a restraining order is in effect, the parties should not try to resolve issues outside of court. Any violation of a restraining order is a criminal offense and subject to legal consequences.

Typical Consequences of a Restraining Order Violation

The legal consequences an individual may face for violating a restraining order depends on the state they live in, the details of the restraining order, and the type of contact that was made. If other criminal acts were committed in relation to the contact made with a protected person, legal consequences are more severe. An individual who violates a restraining order is usually charged with contempt of court and may face fines or incarceration.

Depending on the type of restraining order violation that was committed, the violator may be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. If the violator receives additional criminal charges, such as for vandalism or committing a violent act, they may be charged with a felony. The consequences related to this felony may vary depending on the individual’s criminal background and the specific case. The ruling may include five years of incarceration and expensive fines.

Violators who make contact with a protected person but don’t face additional criminal charges may only be charged with a misdemeanor. Legal consequences for this charge may also vary by individual and depend on the situation but could include a year of jail time and additional fines.

What Happens If the Protected Person Violates the Order?

Although a protected person is the one who files with the court to enact a restraining order, they may also be the one to violate the order. The protected person may need to contact the individual named in the order to discuss family or financial issues. The protected person may also have emotional ties to the aggressor and feel the need to speak with the individual to resolve personal issues.

When a protected person contacts the individual named in the restraining order, it’s generally not considered a violation of the order. Since the protected person is the one who felt threatened, harassed, or stalked, they don’t usually have any legal guidelines they must abide by within the restraining order.

However, this legality may vary by state or may be specific to the restraining order and its own court-ordered guidelines. Before a protected person attempts to contact the individual named in the restraining order, they should refer to the court documents and orders.

Enforcing a Restraining Order

If you’re the protected person named in a restraining order, it’s important not to let your guard down. Aggressors may still violate these orders, putting your safety at risk.

Keep extensive records of your contact or engagement with the aggressor. If you see the individual and suspect they may be stalking you, take detailed notes of when and where you saw them. If the individual contacts you directly, either in-person, by phone, or electronically, save and make note of all correspondence. Without this proof, it can be hard to claim the individual violated the restraining order in a court of law.

As a protected person with a restraining order, you should carry a copy of the court order with you at all times. If you see the aggressor or have contact with the individual, contact your local authorities immediately. When the police officers arrive, show them your restraining order so they can take the proper action.

Report any restraining order violations, no matter how small, as soon as they occur. Even if you think the contact the aggressor made was harmless, it’s important to have extensive records filed with the court naming these violations. If the aggressor eventually makes a violent or retaliatory threat or visit, your detailed court records will help to convict the violator.

If you’re worried about an individual violating a restraining order, contact an attorney to discuss additional legal options. If there are other criminal charges brought against the aggressor, they may face extensive fines or incarceration.

Restraining order violations may trigger adverse legal actions, including fines or incarceration. Whether you’re the individual named in a restraining order or the protected person, it’s important to understand the details of your order and discuss the terms with an attorney so you don’t violate it.

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