What Is Civil Harassment?
In general, civil harassment is abuse, threats of abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or serious harassment by someone you have not dated and do not have a close relationship with, like a neighbor, a roommate, or a friend (that you have never dated). It is also civil harassment if the abuse is from a family member that is not included in the list under domestic violence. So, for example, if the abuse is from an uncle or aunt, a niece or nephew, or a cousin, it is considered civil harassment and not domestic violence.
The civil harassment laws say “harassment” is:
- Unlawful violence, like assault or battery or stalking, or
- A credible (real) threat of violence, and
- The violence or threats seriously scare, annoy, or harass someone and there is no valid reason for it.
“Credible threat of violence” means intentionally saying something or acting in a way that would make a reasonable person afraid for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family. A “credible threat of violence” includes following or stalking someone, making harassing calls, or sending harassing messages, by phone, mail, or e-mail, over a period of time (even if it is a short time).
Civil Harassment Restraining Orders
A civil harassment restraining order is a court order that helps protect people from violence, stalking, serious harassment, or threats of violence.
You can ask for a civil harassment restraining order if:
- A person has abused (or threatened to abuse), sexually assaulted, stalked, or seriously harassed you, and
- You are scared or seriously annoyed or harassed.
Generally, for civil harassment restraining orders, the person you want to restrain is not:
- Your spouse/partner or former spouse/partner,
- Someone you dated at any point, or
- A close relative (parent, child, brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, in-law).
If you have a close relationship like one of these, consider whether a domestic violence restraining order is best for your situation.
In a civil harassment restraining order, you can ask to restrain:
- A neighbor,
- A roommate,
- A friend,
- A family member more than 2 degrees removed, like an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, cousins, and more distant relatives, or
- Other people you are not closely related to.
IMPORTANT: If you are 65 or older or a dependent adult, you can file a civil harassment restraining order against someone you are not close to, but you can also file an elder or dependent adult abuse restraining order, which may be better for you because you may be able to get more help before, during, and after the court case.
If you do not qualify for a civil harassment restraining order, there are other kinds of orders you may be able to ask for:
- Domestic violence restraining order (for protection from people you were involved with romantically at some point or close family members).
- Elder or dependent adult abuse restraining order (if the person being abused is 65 or older, or between 18 and 64 and a dependent adult).
- Workplace violence restraining order (filed by an employer to protect an employee from violence, stalking, or harassment by another person).
If you are not sure what kind of restraining order you should get, talk to a lawyer.
What Can a Restraining Order Do?
A restraining order is a court order. It can order the restrained person to:
- Not contact you or any member of your household;
- Not go near you, your children, or others who live with you, no matter where you go;
- Stay away from your work, your school, or your children’s school; or
- Not have a gun.
Once the court issues (makes) a restraining order, it goes into a statewide computer system. This means that law enforcement officers across California can see there is a restraining order in place.
Effect of a Restraining Order on the Restrained Person
For the person to be restrained, the consequences of having a court order against him or her can be very severe.
- He or she will not be able to go to certain places or to do certain things.
- He or she will generally not be able to own a gun. (And he or she will have to turn in, sell or store any guns he or she has and will not be able to buy a gun while the restraining order is in effect.)
- The restraining order may affect his or her immigration status. If you are a person to be restrained and you are worried about this, talk to an immigration lawyer to find out if you will be affected.
If the person to be restrained violates the restraining order, he or she may go to jail, or pay a fine, or both.
Types of Civil Harassment Restraining Orders
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 call because of serious violence or a serious threat can ask a judge for an emergency protective order at any time of the day or night. For civil harassment cases, EPOs are only available in cases of stalking. If you are being stalked, you can call the police and ask for an EPO.
The emergency protective order starts immediately and can last up to 7 days. The judge can order the abusive person to leave the home (if they live with you) and stay away from you for up to a week. That gives you enough time to go to court to file for a temporary restraining order.
To get a more permanent order, you first 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 civil harassment 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 about 20 to 25 days, until the court hearing date.
“Permanent” Restraining Order (Restraining Order After Hearing)
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 5 years.
Criminal Protective Order or “Stay-Away” Order
Sometimes, when there is an incident of violence or severe harassment (or series of incidents), the district attorney will file criminal charges against the person committing the violence. 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) that is effective 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.
The Restraining Order Process
When someone asks for a civil harassment 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:
1. The person wanting protection files court forms asking for the civil harassment restraining order.
2. The judge will decide whether or not to make the order by the next business day. Sometimes the judge decides sooner. Then, the clerk will set a date for a hearing.
3. If the judge grants (gives) the orders requested, he or she will first make “temporary” orders that only last until your court date. The court date will be on the paperwork. These temporary orders can include issues like:
- Ordering the restrained person to have no contact (including no phone calls or e-mails) with the protected person (and other protected people); or
- Ordering the restrained person to stay away from the protected person (and other protected people).
4. The person asking for protection will have to “serve” the other person with a copy of all the restraining order papers before the court date. This means that someone 18 or older (NOT involved in the case) must hand-deliver a copy of all the papers to the restrained person.
5. Both sides go to the court hearing.
- If the protected person does not go to the hearing, the temporary restraining order will usually end that day and there will no longer be a restraining order.
- If the restrained person does not go to the hearing, he or she will have no input in the case and his or her side of the story will not be taken into account.
6. At the hearing, the judge will decide to continue or cancel the temporary restraining order. If the judge decides to extend the temporary order, the “permanent” order may last for up to 5 years.
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.
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 can help make the process easier to handle.
For the person asking for protection
Your city or county may have legal aid agencies that help people ask for civil harassment restraining orders, but it usually depends on the type of abuse or harassment. For example, if you have been sexually assaulted, you may be able to get help from legal aid or a domestic violence agency. Sometimes, these agencies will also help with stalking cases. And they may help in other situations. It is hard to know whether you will qualify for help without knowing the specific situation you are in.
So if you need a civil harassment restraining order, no matter why, first try to get help from your local legal aid agency. If they cannot help you, they may be able to send you to someone who can.
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 civil harassment 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.
from California Courts