What happens in court?
You will appear before a judge so you can tell him/her what happened. You will usually appear before a judge without the abuser being present.
When you return to court on the date indicated in your order, the abuser has a right to be present. Both you and the abuser will have the opportunity to tell the judge what happened between you. You are allowed to bring a lawyer to this hearing, but it is purely your choice. At the end of this hearing, the judge will determine if you should receive a final order, for how long, and under what conditions.
If the abuser does not appear at the hearing, the judge will either continue the temporary order in effect until the abuser can be brought into court, or will enter a final order if there is proof that the abuser was served with the T.R.O./Notice to Appear. The sheriff or police should have proof of service. You can not be asked or told to serve papers on the abuser. If you don’t appear, and have not made arrangements with the court to reschedule the case, someone from the court will attempt to contact you by phone at home or at work, or they may send you a certified letter if you have no phone. The courts take domestic violence very seriously, and will be worried about your safety if you do not call. If they cannot find you, your restraining order may be dismissed and you will no longer have the protection granted in the order.
What happens after court?
The court will give you a copy of the order. Be sure to ask someone before you leave the court if there is anything you don’t understand. Carry it with you at all times. If the abuser does not obey the order, call the police. The police have to arrest an abuser who violates any part of the order that protects you from threats or violence.
You have the right to police protection. If you carry your order with you at all times, it will be easier for the police to understand your current situation. If you lose your order, or it gets destroyed, return to the court and obtain another copy.
What can you do if the abuser violates the order?
If the abuser violates any of the other parts of the order, call the police. For some violations (having contact with you or coming to the house, for example) or if the abuser violated the order by committing a crime, (for example, stalking you, harassing you or trespassing) the local police must sign a criminal complaint for contempt of the court order.
Can I file criminal charges?
You can file criminal charges against the abuser for acts of domestic violence, because they are all crimes. Criminal charges can only be filed at your local police department. For very serious crimes, a prosecutor may take your case to state criminal court. You do not have to file criminal charges, but the law does allow you to file them if you choose, even if you also get a restraining order. In most states you have at least a year after any incident to file criminal charges. The police can also file charges on their own and must do so when you show signs of injury or if a weapon was used. If the abuser is found guilty of the criminal charges, the court can impose fines, probation, or even jail as punishment.