6 Things To Know When Getting An Order Of Protection

Before heading to the courthouse, know what to expect.

I'm sitting in the waiting area outside the courtroom, alternating between anger, exasperation, anxiety and fear. I'm angry that my ex-husband is harassing me again. Why won't he just leave me alone? I'm exasperated because it's my third trip to this courthouse to ask for an Order of Protection and it's eating up a lot of time and energy. I'm anxious because I don't know if the judge will grant it to me, or if she'll think I'm wasting the court's time. And I'm honestly a little freaked out and afraid that my ex will actually show up and I'll have to look him in the face. 

I'm really wondering if this is worth it. Maybe he'll just leave me alone. But in my heart, I know it is worth it and that I need to see it through.

If you are in an abusive situation, you've probably debated whether or not to get a restraining order at some point. Just making the decision to get one is nerve wracking. You are likely worried it will set off your partner and make things worse. And if you do decide to go ahead, the process of applying for one may seem so intimidating and overwhelming that you don’t know how or where to start.

Yes, it can be overwhelming…but let me just say, it IS worth the trouble. It's worth it and it’s important. It's a step towards stopping the abuse and regaining control over your life. 

You'll need to go to your local courthouse and ask to file a petition for an Order of Protection (or a restraining order—what they call it varies by state). Before you head to the courthouse, however, it is helpful to know what to expect. Based on my own experiences, here are 6 things to know:

1. It is work. The first time I went, I thought I would have to fill out a piece of paper and that was it. Not quite. You will have to fill out paperwork, speak to clerks, answer questions, and tell your story several times. There may be a lot of waiting and you may have to come back and appear in court to talk to a judge a few times before it's all said and done. Stick with it, however long it takes.  

2. It's a little nerve-wracking. I highly recommend that you bring a friend with you. Courts, judges, and lawyers all have their own customs and language and that can feel a little bit like you are in a foreign country. Just remember that they are there to help you. It's best to keep it short, simple and direct when talking to the judge.

3. Be prepared. Bring documentation and/or witnesses with you. Bring anything that could illustrate to the judge what you are talking about; emails, texts, voicemails and photos are all ways to help her understand your situation.  If you have a friend that has witnessed the behavior, ask him or her to accompany you to court when you file the complaint.   

4. Remember why you are doing this. The goal is to be left in peace. Be clear, direct, calm and determined.  Don't doubt yourself. You aren't there to ask the judge, "Do you think I should have this?" You are there to explain to the judge why it is important that you get it. Immediately. You’ve come this far, keep your goal in mind.

5. Understand it's a piece of paper. In the end, you will have a legal document that says your partner can no longer abuse you and that if he does, there will be repercussions. Hopefully that document will send a clear message to your abuser and he will leave you alone. But please remember, it is a piece of paper. It alone cannot protect you. It is vital that you have a safety plan in place as well.

6. Taking this step will help you feel empowered again. It may have been awhile since you stood up to your partner. It is very empowering to stand up for yourself and say "NO" to someone who is hurting you. You will feel like you are regaining control over the situation. You will feel strong again. And THIS is why it's worth it.

The judge did grant me a permanent Order of Protection in the end. My ex is leaving me in peace and I am free to concentrate on my new life now.

For women in abusive situations, filing for an Order of Protection is often a critical step toward freedom and safety. At SAS for Women, we help women take this step, as well as other important steps, toward a better life. 

If you would like to learn more about how to identify abuse, get an Order of Protection, or create a safety plan, contact SAS for a free confidential in person or telephone appointment. You can also visit our home page to sign up for our free, weekly newsletter. You don't have to figure it out on your own, we are here to help.

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