How to file a restraining order against your crazy ex-boyfriend.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 23 2008 5:29 PM

My Boyfriend Is Really Annoying

Can I file a restraining order?

Britney Spears with Adnan Ghalib. Click image to expand.
Britney Spears with Adnan Ghalib

Britney Spears reportedly filed a restraining order against her paparazzo boyfriend, Adnan Ghalib, after discovering that he was tipping off his agency with photo ops. Last Monday, Florida resident Rachelle Washington petitioned for a protective injunction against Patriots' wide receiver Randy Moss. Under what circumstances can you order an unwanted admirer to get the hell away from you?

Fear of imminent harm. Laws vary somewhat from state to state, but across the country it's possible to obtain a temporary restraining order by swearing, under oath, that you have reason for alarm. There's no jury, the alleged harasser need not be present, and the burden of proof is virtually nonexistent; judges issue orders on behalf of anyone with a credible complaint. ("He threatened to hit me and I'm scared" but not "It freaks me out when he stares at me.") Under these guidelines "my paparazzo boyfriend sold pictures of me" would not pass muster, so either Britney had a more substantial complaint or the latest tabloid tale is just a rumor.

Advertisement

Temporary injunctions have a lifespan of maybe a week or two. Exact terms depend on the situation, but a basic order requires the offending party to stay at least 500 feet away from the victim's person and property. Occasionally, judges require offenders to surrender any firearms in their possession to local law enforcement. Case in point: Randy Moss was asked to hand over any concealed weapons permits to the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

After the temporary injunction expires, the victim can try to extend the restraining order in court. At a hearing, both parties are present and the victim must present "clear and convincing" evidence that abuse occurred or is likely to occur. The victim testifies about the harassment she experienced, and may present police reports or dated pictures of injuries. Witnesses who overheard threats or were present during a fight may also testify. Then the accused gets a chance to mount a defense. If the judge rules in the victim's favor, he'll issue a long-term restraining order, sometimes called a "final injunction." In California, where Britney Spears resides, a post-hearing order can last up to five years.

Many states distinguish between restraining orders issued for victims of domestic violence (sometimes called a "protective order") and other kinds of abuse (a "peace order"). Procedurally, they're very similar—first a temporary injunction, then a hearing, followed by a long-term order. But protective orders can impose farther-reaching penalties—not just a "stay away" mandate but the forced payment of child support, for example—and may last longer. Furthermore, there are some technical differences in eligibility and in the definition of abuse. In Maryland, for example, protective orders may be issued against current and former spouses, roommates, relatives, or anyone with whom the victim has had a child. Abuse, in such cases, means an act that causes serious bodily harm or places the petitioner in fear of serious harm, rape, or false imprisonment. Peace orders, by contrast, are issued against those who are not intimately related to their victim, and the definition of abuse is broader: It includes stalking, destruction of property, and trespassing.

What happens if you falsify a petition? Probably nothing, since it's hard to disprove a state of mind. That is, if you claim you're scared for your life, who's to say you aren't? Technically, however, you could be charged with making a false declaration. And what happens if you violate a restraining order? You'd probably face a criminal charge, a suspended sentence contingent on good behavior, and a fine—or possibly a short stay in jail.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Katie Buckland of the California Women's Law Center and Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 1:52 PM Julian Casablancas’ New Album Sounds Like the Furthest Thing From the Strokes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.