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Restraining Orders: Information For Respondents

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While the restraining order process in Florida is a civil process, not a criminal process, the consequences of being hit with a restraining order are severe.

Restraining orders, also known as injunctions, are final orders of the court that prohibit contact between people. The person seeking the restraining order is known as a Petitioner. The person receiving it is the Respondent.

Restraining orders are sought in two situations - domestic violence and repeat violence. Domestic violence means acts of violence that occur between people involved in a domestic relationship. Repeat violence means two or more acts of violence that have occurred between people who need not be in a domestic relationship, so long as one of those two acts of violence occurred within 6 months prior to filing the Petition.

The first thing that happens is the Petitioner will file a Petition with the court alleging the facts that set forth their grounds for seeking the restraining order. If the Petition is facially sufficient (which means that if proven, the facts alleged would qualify for injunctive relief), the court will issue what's known as a temporary restraining order.

This temporary restraining order will be served upon the Respondent by the county sheriff. In Miami-Dade County, that would be the Miami-Dade Police Department. In Broward County, that would be the Broward Sheriff's Office.

As the Respondent, you may be served at home or at work. The Petitioner will provide your last known addresses to the police who will send a process server to hand you a copy of your temporary restraining order and a notice of hearing.

Don't blow this off. I know that the first reaction for many is to read through the allegations in the Petition and dismiss them as lies. Well it's not what you know but what you can prove. Just because the allegations seem baseless doesn't mean that a court won't issue a permanent injunction on the basis of those allegations.

Do not be tempted to contact the Petitioner. More than likely, the court has issued a temporary injunction and contact with the Petitioner will not only be grounds for contempt of court, but you could also be charged with the crime of violation of an injunction.

In some cases, the Petition will not set forth sufficient grounds for injunctive relief. In that case, the temporary injunction will not be issued but a final hearing on its denial will still be set within 7 days. Still, do not reach out to the Petitioner in the hope that the matter will go away. Your conduct within this period of time is crucial. Remember who makes the final decision. If you contact the Petitioner when they are asking the court to prohibit you from contacting them, you are giving the judge the wrong impression.

If issued, the temporary restraining order is good until a final order of the court. However, a hearing is set for about 7 days after the issuance of the temporary.

Once served, the Respondent must appear at the court hearing or risk having the court only hear the side of the Petitioner. It is strongly advised that Respondents retain counsel in advance of the hearing so that the Respondent and the attorney can be prepared.

The hearing works like a mini trial. There is no jury, just a judge. Each side presents their evidence with the burden of proof falling upon the Petitioner to prove the allegations set forth in the Petition.

Each side's counsel (both Petitioners and Respondents are often, and should be, represented by attorneys) will have the chance to cross-examine the other party's witnesses and challenge the other party's evidence.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will make a decision. The judge may deny the Petition or grant the Petition. If denied, then the Respondent is free to go about their life. If granted, the Respondent may be ordered to attend anger management classes, undergo psychological evaluations and treatment, and will certainly be ordered to surrender all firearms. The judge may extend the temporary if he or she feels that a permanent injunction is not needed. On the other hand, the judge may issue a permanent injunction for a period of months, years, or even for life.

Having a permanent injunction entered against you has a similar effect to being a convicted felon. It is something that can come up in a background check.

If you are served with papers and you realize that you are involved in a restraining order proceeding in Miami-Dade or Broward, you may contact me to discuss your options.