Restraining Orders in North Carolina

According to North Carolina Law, domestic violence occurs in one of the following ways:

  • Attempting to cause or intentionally causing bodily injury to another.
  • Placing someone (or a member of their family or household) in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment rising to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress.
  • Committing certain sex crimes against certain individuals.

Additionally, the criminal actions listed above must take place between individuals who have or have had a “personal relationship” with one another. This includes:

  • A current or former spouse.
  • Someone of the opposite sex who you live with or have lived with in the past.
  • Parties that have a parent-child relationship.
  • Parties that share a child.
  • Parties that were formerly or are currently in a dating relationship.

If the actions listed above take place between individuals who have or have had the kind of relationships mentioned above, the alleged victim of the domestic violence may seek what is called a Domestic Violence Order of Protection. This is more informally referred to as a restraining order. Generally speaking, by obtaining a restraining order, the victim is receiving an order from the court that prevents the accused from contacting the victim in any way (by phone, email, text and especially in person).

There are so many scenarios in which someone might seek a restraining order against another person, but the scenarios we seem to see the most are when one party is alleging to have been physically abused by the other. Another common scenario we see is when there are so many unwanted attempts by one person to contact the other through text, phone calls or email. We see this frequently with couples who have just separated or who share a child and are cutting off communication from one another.

If one of the many scenarios takes place, the alleged victim will likely seek what is called an ex parte restraining order against the person they have a “personal relationship” with. This means the victim can go to court and get a restraining order from a judge without the accused party being present. A judge might grant an ex parte restraining order because he or she believes the situation is serious enough that the victim, and/or a member of the victim’s family or household is in need of court protection immediately.

However, this is only the beginning of the process. Because the accused did not have the chance to tell his or her side of the story, a hearing is scheduled either ten days from the date the order was issued by the judge or seven days from the time that the accused has been served with the restraining order. It is at this hearing that a judge will hear both sides of the story to determine whether the restraining order will continue in effect for another year. Whether a restraining order will stay in effect for another year will ultimately depend on whether the judge finds that an act of domestic violence has occurred based on all of the evidence.

This post does not even begin to scratch the surface of the possible outcomes and implications once a restraining order is issued. In my next post, I will cover in detail the repercussions of a restraining order, including the kinds of relief a victim might receive, such as the possession of the parties’ home and the custody of the parties’ children, the court’s ability to seize firearms from the aggressor, and how the issuance of a restraining order can dramatically affect a child custody case.