Restraining Orders Aren’t FOR Their Applicants but AGAINST Their Recipients: On the Gravity of Civil Injunctions

Posted on January 18, 2014


A couple of recent female respondents to this blog have evinced a misconception about what restraining orders are and how sternly they’re enforced, and my suspicion is this misunderstanding is prevalent and may account for much of the incredulity expressed by the general public when they hear restraining orders are abused or sought for malicious ends.

Restraining orders, which are casually issued by the court, are popularly understood as harmless instruments, that is, ones merely intended to check their recipients’ conduct and only serious if not taken seriously. Plaintiffs may even have the impression that restraining orders are simply warnings issued by authorities to make someone (a boyfriend, for example) clean up his act and that, according to their applicants’ discretion, may be disregarded.


Civil injunctions aren’t warnings; they’re orders of the court. If violated, even by the express invitation of their plaintiffs—and if the search terms that bring people to this blog are any indication (and they are), this happens more than anyone cares to acknowledge—the consequences to their defendants may be extreme, including months of incarceration, loss of employment, and all of the possible ramifications (physical, psychological, and material) that attend both. Police won’t inquire whether renewed relations between a plaintiff and a defendant were consensual, nor will they care. They’ll just slap the cuffs on, and the situation isn’t one that an ill-informed plaintiff can simply “clear up.” It’s out of his or her hands. It’s sufficient, furthermore, for an officer to reasonably believe a violation has occurred. No report by the plaintiff is required to authorize an arrest.

The popular conception of restraining orders as “advisories” that are meant to temporarily put someone on notice is mistaken. Restraining orders are public records that never cease to be public records; may be grounds for dismissal from jobs, as well as impediments to future employment; may be recorded in public registries; and provide authorities with grounds to summarily arrest their defendants and possibly incarcerate them for a considerable period.

Here you see the perceptual schism between what may seem to many applicants (and most disinterested citizens) to be simple expedients to attain relief from a nuisance and what are actually very draconian instruments easily and potently abused by unscrupulous plaintiffs. Restraining orders aren’t color-coded according to “threat level.” They’re generic documents. The average person may genuinely fail to recognize that the measure that stops someone from sending tedious letters is the same one that may strip a defendant of his or her home, children, money, property, and livelihood—very possibly on fraudulent grounds.

The latter scenario, it’s believed, only occurs when real and urgent circumstances exist to justify it, real and urgent circumstances that are diligently ascertained by the courts. Irrespective of the allegations made or the purpose indicated by a plaintiff, in fact, restraining orders are issued based on cursory interviews that require no evidence at all. And they’re as easily and conveniently obtained by the malicious as they are by the earnest—indeed more easily, because malicious accusers are indifferent to lying.

Though it may be the case that restraining orders are perceived as in-structive, they may well be de-structive. Sometimes destruction is the motive of their applicants, but this result occurs even when it’s unintended.

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