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Domestic violence is abuse or threats of abuse when the person being abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship (married or domestic partners, are dating or used to date, live or lived together, or have a child together). It is also when the abused person and the abusive person are closely related by blood or by marriage.
The domestic violence laws say “abuse” is:
The physical abuse is not just hitting. Abuse can be kicking, shoving, pushing, pulling hair, throwing things, scaring or following you, or keeping you from freely coming and going. It can even include physical abuse of the family pets.
Also, keep in mind that the abuse in domestic violence does not have to be physical. Abuse can be verbal (spoken), emotional, or psychological. You do not have to be physically hit to be abused. Often, abuse takes many forms, and abusers use a combination of tactics to control and have power over the person being abused. Read more about domestic violence and abuse. If you live in a tribal community in California and are experiencing domestic violence, click to get more information.
If you are being abused in any of these ways or you feel afraid or controlled by your partner or someone you are close with, it may help you to talk to a domestic violence counselor, even if you do not want (or are not sure if you want) to ask for legal protection. Find domestic violence resources in your county. Find domestic violence resources in tribal communities.
Read about domestic violence laws starting with California Family Code section 6203. You can find criminal domestic violence laws in the California Penal Code, like Penal Code section 273.5, Penal Code section 243(e)(1), and others.
A domestic violence restraining order is a court order that helps protect people from abuse or threats of abuse from someone they have a close relationship with.
You can ask for a domestic violence restraining order if:
If you are a parent and your child is being abused, you can also file a restraining order on behalf of your child to protect your child (and you and other family members). If your child is 12 or older, he or she can file the restraining order on his or her own.
If you do not qualify for a domestic violence restraining order, there are other kinds of orders you can ask for:
If you are not sure what kind of restraining order you should get, talk to a lawyer. For help finding a lawyer. Also, your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center may be able to help you. And your local legal services offices may also be able to help you or refer you to someone who can.
If you live in an indian tribal community or reservation, the tribe may have resources to assist you. If there is a tribal court, the court may be able to give you a protective order. Click for more information on tribal courts.
A restraining order is a court order. It can order the restrained person to:
Once the court issues (makes) a restraining order, the order is entered into a statewide computer system (called CLETS) that all law enforcement officers have access to. And your restraining order works anywhere in the United States. If you move out of California, contact your new local police so they will know about your orders.
If you move to California with a restraining order from another state, or if you have a restraining order issued by a tribal court (in California or elsewhere in the U.S.), your restraining order will be valid anywhere in California and the police will enforce it. If you want your restraining order to be entered into California’s statewide domestic violence computer system, you can register your order with the court. Fill out and take an Order to Register Out-of-State or Tribal Court Protective/Restraining Order (CLETS)
A restraining order cannot:
Read the section Divorce and Legal Separation for information on getting divorced or legally separated.
Read the section Parentage for information on parentage (paternity) when the parents of a child are not married and are not domestic partners.
For the person to be restrained, the consequences of having a court order against him or her can be very severe.
If the person to be restrained violates the restraining order, he or she may go to jail, or pay a fine, or both.
Emergency Protective Order (EPO)
An EPO is a type of restraining order that only law enforcement can ask for by calling a judge. Judges are available to issue EPOs 24 hours a day. So, a police officer that answers a domestic violence call can ask a judge for an emergency protective order at any time of the day or night.
The emergency protective order starts right away and can last up to 7 days. The judge can order the abusive person to leave the home and stay away from the victim and any children for up to a week. That gives the victim of the abuse enough time to go to court to file for a temporary restraining order.
To get an order that lasts longer than an EPO, you must ask the court for a temporary restraining order (also called a “TRO”).
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)
When you go to court to ask for a domestic violence restraining order, you fill out paperwork where you tell the judge everything that has happened and why you need a restraining order. If the judge believes you need protection, he or she will give you a temporary restraining order.
Temporary restraining orders usually last between 20 and 25 days, until the court hearing date.
“Permanent” Restraining Order
When you go to court for the hearing that was scheduled for your TRO, the judge may issue a “permanent” restraining order. They are not really “permanent” because they usually last up to 3 years.
At the end of those 3 years (or whenever your order runs out), you can ask for a new restraining order so you remain protected.
Criminal Protective Order or “Stay-Away” Order
Sometimes, when there is a domestic violence incident (or series of incidents), the district attorney will file criminal charges against the abuser. This starts a criminal court case going. It is common for the criminal court to issue a criminal protective order against the defendant (the person who is committing the violence and abuse) while the criminal case is going on, and, if the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, for 3 years after the case is over.
To learn more about criminal protective orders, read How does a Criminal Protective Order help me? And if there is a criminal protective order against you, read A Criminal Protective Order was issued against me.
When someone asks for a domestic violence restraining order in court, they have to file court forms telling the judge what orders they want and why. What happens after that varies a little from court to court, but the general steps in the court case are:
Read Asking for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order for detailed instructions on how to ask for a domestic violence restraining order.
Read Responding to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order for detailed instructions on how to answer a request for a domestic violence restraining order.
You do not need a lawyer to ask for (or respond to) a restraining order. BUT it is a good idea to have a lawyer, especially if you have children.
The court process can be confusing and intimidating. Both people will have to see each other in court, and both will have to tell the judge details of what happened in a public courtroom. Having a lawyer or (for the protected person) support from domestic violence experts can help make the process easier to handle.
For the person asking for protection
Most cities and counties have domestic violence help centers, shelters, or legal aid agencies that help people ask for a restraining order. These services are usually free or very low cost. If you are the person asking for a restraining order, look for help in your area before you try to do it on your own.
Click for local domestic violence legal help.
If you live in an indian tribal community or reservation, the tribe may also have a Tribal Advocate and other resources to help you. Read "What Is a Tribal Advocate?" for more information.
For the person responding to a restraining order
It is more difficult to find free or low-cost legal help if you are responding to a request for a domestic violence restraining order. But you should still try since legal aid agencies have different guidelines, and your local bar association may have a volunteer lawyer program that can help you. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center may also be able to help you respond to the restraining order. If they cannot help with the restraining order, they can at least help you with any child support or spousal/partner support issues you may have.
For victims of domestic violence
Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can help you in more than 100 languages. It is free and private.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline links you to the following resources in your community:
Domestic violence shelters Emergency shelters Legal help Social service programs
The website also provides a lot of information to help you and your children stay safe and get protection.
This site lists help by county, like:
For child abuse
For perpetrators of domestic violence
For teens in domestic violence situations