Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Can a Restraining Order be Resolved Before the Court Hearing?

As I've previously discussed on this blog, obtaining a restraining order in California is a 2-step process. First, the petitioner files a "Request for a Restraining Order". Within 24 hours, a judge will determine whether or not to grant a temporary order based on the facts alleged in the petition. Next, a hearing will be scheduled within 3 weeks. At the hearing, both sides will have an opportunity to present their arguments and a judge will decide whether or not to extend the order for a longer period (up to 5 years in cases involving domestic violence, or up to 3 years in cases involving civil harassment).

Unfortunately, this 2-step process often means that nonsense restraining orders are issued for 3 weeks before the respondent has an opportunity to present his side of the story in court. During this time, the respondent's life can be turned upside down. He can be barred from his home, separated from his kids and denied access to his belongings. By the time he has a chance to defend himself, the damage may be done.

Clients often ask me about resolving their restraining orders before their scheduled court hearings. Luckily, it may be possible to start negotiating a dismissal immediately, but this must be done properly. Disregarding the court's temporary orders can make a bad situation much worse. If the respondent calls the petitioner to discuss the case while the temporary order is in effect, he can be arrested. Any violation of the temporary order can also be grounds for the issuance of a permanent order, even if the petition itself was inadequate.

If you are the subject of a temporary order, you must absolutely abide by it until the time of the hearing. That means do not contact the petitioner in any way, directly or indirectly. Don't ask someone else to pass along a message. Don't send an email or a text message. Don't leave a note on her car. Don't even respond to a message from the petitioner if he or she attempts to contact you.

Your attorney may contact the petitioner to discuss your case, though. Any communication between you and the petitioner must be done through your counsel. If you need your work uniform or your medication, talk to your attorney about reaching out to the petitioner to arrange a hand-off.

Your lawyer can also start the process of trying to negotiate a dismissal before the hearing. Restraining order hearings are often arbitrary and unpredictable. No matter how strong you believe your case is, there's a pretty good chance that the judge will disagree. Whenever you choose to fight it out in court, there's a 50/50 chance that you'll lose. Stipulated dismissals (where both parties agree to resolve the case privately, rather than in court) can be a great way to ensure that both sides get 100% of whatever they want. Usually, the petitioner wants some assurance that the respondent will stay away, and the respondent wants to avoid a restraining order and everything that comes with it.

Stipulated dismissals work like this: the parties make an informal, written agreement through their attorneys. Typically, the respondent promises to stay away from the petitioner, to stop calling, to return the petitioner's iPad, etc., and the petitioner agrees to dismiss the case. If the respondent ever violates this agreement, the petitioner can go back to court and reopen the case. She'll simply show the judge the written contract and she'll explain how the respondent has violated it. Now she has a slam dunk case, and she's much more likely to win a restraining order. If the respondent demonstrates that he's unwilling or unable to abide by his promise to stay away, then the judge will see him as dangerous or unstable, and the court will grant the petitioner's restraining order. Of course, if the respondent complies with the agreement and he stays away as promised, then everybody wins.

If you've been served with a restraining order, call our office for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John. We have extensive experience litigating restraining orders in all Southern California courts.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Restraining Order Lawyer