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We have a number of clients that come to us, who have been subject to some form of abuse or harassment and are seeking legal protection. Others have had an Order for Protection (OFP) or a Harassment Restraining Order (HRO) filed against them and need help to defend themselves. We hope that the following information will assist clients to better understand their situation and the nature of legal orders for protection.
An OFP is a kind of restraining order that is intended to stop family violence, which includes physical harm or threat of immediate physical harm. An OFP is not a criminal procedure, but rather is a civil matter handled by the family court. Since an OFP is concerned with domestic abuse, it can only be used in cases in which the abuser is a spouse or ex-spouse; a parent or a child over 18 years of age; a romantic partner; any blood relative; the mother or father of the victim’s child; or anyone with whom the victim currently lives or has lived. An individual who has been the victim of domestic abuse can file for an OFP for his or her own protection as well as that of any minor children in the family or household.
With an OFP, a court can order the abuser to cease causing further harm to the victim. It can also be used to place limitations on contact with the victim; to exclude the abuser from the victim’s place of residence or employment; or to order counseling or treatment for the abuser. It can be used to address specific issues, such as spousal support, child support, child custody, and parenting time or visitation.
If you are pursuing an Order for Protection, consider asking the Court to get car and home keys from the abuser, garage door openers, check cards, joint credit cards and other personal items that could be exploited or used by the abuser.
Although a court order cannot guarantee protection, there may be criminal penalties if the abuser violates the conditions of the order. An abuser in violation of an OFP may face arrest, misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charges, imprisonment, and a fine.
If the situation of abuse does not fit any of the categories above for an OFP, then it may be possible to file for a Harassment Restraining Order (HRO). While there are limitations on who can file for an OFP, anyone can get an HRO. There need not be any particular relationship between the harasser and the victim. Like an OFP, an HRO is an order issued by a judge in a civil court. For an OFP, it is necessary to show incidents of domestic abuse. Some behaviors, however, may not meet the legal definition of domestic abuse, but might be sufficient to constitute harassment for purposes of an HRO. For legal purposes, harassment includes a single incident of physical or sexual assault or repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security or privacy of another.
Similar to an OFP, an HRO can be used to order the harasser to stop the incidents of harassment, to limit or avoid any contact with the victim, and to stay away from his or her place of residence or employment. With both an HRO and an OFP, the conditions of the order can be stated with specificity, limiting, for instance, communication with the victim to a certain number of days in a week or month or restricting contact within a certain distance. An OFP is generally taken more seriously by law enforcement and therefore often provides greater protection than an HRO, but a violation of the conditions of either can lead to arrest and potential criminal charges, depending on the nature of the reported incident.
For additional information, please call our office to schedule an appointment with one of our qualified legal professionals. We can help to ensure that you and your family receive proper protection under the law.