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Ask Our Lawyer - June 2000

Question: My ex-husband [or ex-wife] keeps coming to the place at which I work and harassing me. How can I get some help making him [or her] stop?

Answer: Assuming that a calm and quiet discussion conducted between reasonable adults isn't going to resolve the problem, there are ways of preventing people from harassing you. These methods are calling restraining orders or protective orders. There are typically two kinds of orders: temporary and permanent. The two types are slightly different but have enough similarities that we can discuss them at the same time.

The process for obtaining a temporary restraining order is quite simple. You will need to go down to the county clerk's office or the county prosecutor's Office and get a copy of the form that you need to fill out. You can fill out the form while you're there at the office and go ahead and file it with them. The form will ask you for information about yourself, information about the person against whom you are seeking the order, and the reason why you want the order. Once the order is filed with the clerk's office, it will be assigned to a judge who will set a hearing on the order. The hearing is generally a fairly informal procedure. You won't need a lawyer to go with you; you can do it by yourself. The judge will order that both of you be present, and he will question you about the need for the order. You should be prepared to give a short, clean statement of why you think the order is necessary with sufficient details to demonstrate to the judge that you believe there might be danger to you or that it disrupts your life in some significant way.

If the judge determines that there is sufficient reason for a temporary restraining order to be issued, he will enter into an order into the record book of the court. He will also direct that the order be filed with the Sheriff's department for the county and possibly the police department for the city in which you live. The temporary restraining order will typically provide that the person against whom it is issued must stay a certain distance away from you and would not be allowed to enter your house or apartment or place of employment and must stay a set distance away from you at all times. Typically restraining orders are only effective for a period of one year, and if the situation that required the need for a restraining order continues after that one year period, it is possible you may need to seek a permanent protective order to deal with that problem.

Protective orders are different from temporary restraining orders in that the protective order is a permanent order entered by the judge. It will generally contain the same prescriptions that the temporary restraining order does but is permanent in nature. Protective orders are typically entered in a divorce proceeding when a judge will make a temporary restraining order permanent.

Both temporary restraining orders and protective orders are enforced by
the local police departments, whether it is the county Sheriff or the city or town police. In order to prove a violation of the protective order, most prosecutors require that the investigating officer actually see the person violating the protective order. That is, they would see the person actually be in some place where the order commands them not to be. If you see the protective order being violated, call the Sheriff's department or town police and have them come out and investigate. If you believe that you are in danger, please get to a place of safety before you call the police. If you don't believe the police will be able to respond before he leaves, you can always file an affidavit with the prosecutor's office, but it is doubtful that they will be able to prosecute without the police to independently verify the violation of the protective order.

If you have additional questions about the use of protective orders in your area, call your county clerk's office or speak with a local police officer. They will be able to provide you with instructions specific to your area.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-2850. Although there is no guarantee your questions will be answered, any topic you would like to discuss will be gratefully accepted and considered.