Orders of protection are essentially restraining orders entered by the Court in which one person (a respondent) is prohibited from contacting or disturbing the peace of another (a petitioner). Generally, they may only be granted when there has been “abuse” or “stalking.” Abuse may be committed in many ways, including by assault, battery, coercion or harassment. Stalking is when any person purposely and repeatedly engaged in an unwanted course of conduct that causes alarm to another person when it is reasonable in that person’s situation to have been alarmed by the conduct.
The court may order, among other things, that the respondent cease communications, cease harassing activities, and stay a certain number of feet away. If applicable, temporary child custody is also possible, but that is rarely granted.
Although the statute may seem relatively straightforward, there is more nuance than first meets the eye. Under section 455.020, “[a] ny person who has been subject to domestic violence by a present or former family or household member, or who has been the victim of stalking, may seek [an order of protection] by filing a verified petition alleging such domestic violence or stalking by the respondent.” Who counts as a “present or former family or house member”? Section 455.010(7) defines “family” or “household member” to include: spouses, former spouses, any person related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together or have resided together in the past, any person who is or has been in a continuing social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim, and anyone who has a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have resided together at any time. The determination of a “family” or “household member” is crucial because that impacts the legal analysis and the Judge’s ruling.
From a practical perspective, and setting aside the substantive legal concerns, orders of protections often turn on how credible/believable the parties are in Court. Preparation is key so that a party/witness is adequately prepared to credibly testify as to facts necessary to support/deny the order of protection, as well as be ready for cross-examination and questions by the Judge.
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