Guide to restraining orders

Unfortunately, thousands of people experience domestic violence each year in the United States. In Illinois, one of the most commonly reported reasons for filing for divorce is domestic abuse. If you have suffered any form of abuse from your spouse, including persistent emotional abuse, it’s vital to know your rights and your legal options for not only putting a stop to this behavior but also removing yourself from a dangerous situation and protecting yourself in the future.

One of the most effective methods anyone can use to protect themselves from a domestic abuser is a restraining order, also known as a protective order. This is a formal court order that prevents one individual from contacting or coming into close proximity to another person. For example, if your spouse hurt you, you can secure a restraining order that compels them to move out of your home and prevents them from contacting you or your children. Anyone who violates the terms of a protective order will likely go to jail and face additional criminal penalties.

How to Secure a Protective Order Quickly

Illinois state law makes it easy for victims of domestic violence to secure protective orders relatively quickly when they experience abuse at home. In some cases, a victim can secure a temporary restraining order the very same day a domestic violence incident occurs. When the police respond to a 911 call for domestic violence, they have a legal duty to remove the alleged abuser from the situation and ensure the victim’s safety. If the evidence of domestic violence is readily apparent, the responding officers can contact a local judge and have a signed temporary protective order in place very rapidly.

A temporary protective order will remain in place until a formal hearing, during which the judge will determine whether a permanent protective order is necessary. In the interim, the police may escort the subject of the restraining order to jail for holding, or they may be permitted to take personal belongings from their home with the victim and live elsewhere until their hearing.

What Does a Protective Order Do?

A protective order’s goal is to prevent the victim of domestic abuse or their family members from experiencing further abuse. Typically, a protective order will include a “do not contact” provision that prohibits the subject of the order from contacting the victim in any way, including verbal communication in person, phone, text, email, or even correspondence through third parties. If the subject of the order has a justifiable reason for needing to contact the victim protected by the order, they must notify the court and use appropriate channels.

Protective orders, both temporary and permanent, typically prevent the subject of the order from coming into proximity to the victim. The order is likely to stipulate that the subject of the order may not come within a certain physical distance of the victim, the victim’s house, their place of employment, their children’s schools, or childcare centers. The subject of the order may also be compelled to leave any establishment where they encounter the victim in public. For example, if the subject of the order encounters the victim protected by the order in a grocery store or other public place and did not realize they were there, they would likely need to leave the area immediately. They would also need to notify the court that the contact was unexpected and unintentional; otherwise, they may face penalties.

The penalties for violating a protective order can be quite severe. Depending on the nature of the breach of the order’s terms, the severity of the violation, and whether the subject of the protective order has repeatedly violated the terms of the order, the penalties could include facing contempt of court, fines, and jail time.

Filing for a Restraining Order After Divorce

It is common for domestic violence to be a precursor to divorce. Once a married person has abused their spouse, this may be the only justification the victim needs to begin divorce proceedings. Therefore, the domestic violence incident will undoubtedly influence their divorce proceedings. However, it is also possible to file a petition for a protective order after a divorce if an ex-spouse has engaged in domestic violence or abused their children. For example, if you share custody with your ex and believe they have abused or neglected your child while the child was in their custody, you would have grounds to file a restraining order against them to prevent further harm to your child.

When domestic violence becomes an issue between parents, any standing custody and support terms they may have had are likely subject to significant changes. For example, when a custodial parent has committed domestic abuse, they could lose custody of their children, even if they committed domestic violence against someone else.

How Long Does a Restraining Order Last in Illinois?

Once a domestic violence victim has obtained a temporary restraining order, this order will last until the formal hearing, where a judge will decide whether a formal protective order is necessary. Under Illinois law, this order will last for two years, but the individual protected by the order may renew it an infinite number of times as long as the victim can prove that their abuser continues to present a credible threat. It is also possible to modify an existing protective order by filing a petition for modification in the court where the order was issued. The subject of the order has the right to contest your petition to modify or extend your protective order; however, it is vital to prepare accordingly for the hearing that is likely to follow your petition for an extension, renewal, or modification.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Protective Order?

Technically, you do not need legal counsel to file a petition for a protective order in Illinois. However, having an attorney assist you with the process will streamline your experience with the Illinois family court system significantly, and your attorney can ensure the protective order covers everything you require to ensure your safety and the safety of your family. Additionally, if your protective order is likely to pertain to a subsequent divorce case or modification to an existing child custody order, having legal representation on your side can ensure you see the results you need to see from these proceedings. Finding the right Illinois family law attorney to guide you through these processes is the best way to secure the protection you and your family need.