Updated and reprinted from a Breaking the Glasses post on how to prepare to fight back against a temporary emergency restraining order, also known as civil order of protection, taken out by a vindictive or manipulative ex.
First, and most importantly, seek legal council. Do not attempt to handle this without a lawyer. The court system is the most backward and convoluted thing short of the tax system, and you can not navigate it by yourself. Chances are, your opponent isn’t, either. If she is claiming abuse, she’ll have an army of support. Friends and family will swoop in to help rescue the damsel in distress. She will have the support of courtroom bias from the beginning, but she also has access to domestic violence victim’s services, crime victim’s services, and possibly free legal services, depending on her income level. These people will trample you if you attempt to stand up to them without someone to advise you who is an expert in your state’s laws, and familiar with your local court system. You absolutely need an attorney.
Second, avoid all contact with the holder. Even accidental contact can constitute a violation. This means that in addition to avoiding places where you have reason to believe she may be, you need to eliminate the chances of any other accidental contact.
- Delete her email address from all of your accounts’ address books.
- Disconnect from her on every social site on which you are a member. If possible, block her account from seeing your posts, as you can on Facebook. Also, disconnect from and (if possible) block any of her family members with whom you have been connected. Disconnect with any friends of hers with whom you are not close. This includes mutual acquaintances you like, but don’t hang out with. This also includes any mutual friends you don’t really trust to not help her spy on you or entrap you.
- Take her number and the numbers of her family members out of your cell phone contact list, and off of your land line’s autodialer.
- Use voice mail or an answering machine to screen your calls. In some states, if she calls, and you converse with her after answering your phone, you can be considered in violation. If she pocket dials you and you answer your phone even that can be considered a violation. If she does call you, make a note of the date and time she called, and save any message she leaves as evidence that after filing a restraining order, she has attempted to contact you.
- Keep your mouth (publicly) shut about the situation. Do seek assistance from trusted individuals who can help you, but keep discussion to the bare facts: What you are accused of, what your concerns are, and how they can assist you in addressing those concerns and preventing wrongful conviction. Do not vent your hurt and frustration to anyone else who might inadvertently “leak” your words back to your ex, including other friends or family who know her. If you have to talk to someone about this, make it a current significant other, a trusted family member, or a professional counselor. Request that your trusted confidants keep everything you discuss with them about the order confidential, and make sure you limit discussion to only those people who you know will honor that request. Anything you say to others about anything related to her, the restraining order, or its effects on your life can be taken as slander or harassing behavior.
Also, if you have children, and they live with her, you cannot call them or send them anything in the mail, or go to their school or residence to visit them or pick them up for visitation. You cannot contact them in any way which may inadvertently lead to you making contact with her. If you have a visitation schedule, make arrangements with the court to have a trusted friend or family member bring the kids to you. And yes, she might refuse to send the kids with your representative, especially if you don’t have one listed in the custody agreement. You might miss a month of visitation with your kids, but it’s better than how much you will miss if she uses your commitment to them as a way to put you in jail. If that happens, document it.
This is the hard part: If your children call you while the temporary order is in effect, do not answer the phone, and do not call them back, even if it is stated in the message that your ex said it’s all right. Do make a note of the date and time of the call(s), and save any messages left. It could be innocent, but if it is not, communicating them could get treated as an attempt to contact her. A vexatious litigant attempting to entrap you will use your kids to get to you. If she’s really psychotic and/or has no conscience, she will mess with their minds to get to you. If you let it happen, that will hurt them more than any time lost during the ordeal.
Do not trust contact from her friends or any member of her family, even if you were friends prior to the restraining order. If this is a case of restraining order abuse, they might be trying to entrap you into unintentional contact or the appearance of contact with your ex. If you call your ex’s family member’s phone or visit his or her residence, the ex can later claim to have been there, and have you arrested, even if there was no interaction and no contact.
Think of it this way: Your ex is lava. Anywhere she might be is lava. People she hangs out with are lava. Activities she’s involved in are lava. Social sites she uses are lava.
Don’t touch the lava, or you will get burned.
Third, disarm, totally and completely. In addition to complying with laws regarding firearms, remove all things in your home which are primarily used as weapons, even if they are decorative and nonfunctional. If you have weapons which are special family heirlooms (such as someone’s ceremonial military sword or bayonet if not kept with a gun) or religious (such as a wiccan athame) or collector’s items, enlist a trusted friend or family member to take temporary custody of them for you.The only blades in your house should be those needed for cooking. Do not even keep a pocket knife or a letter opener. Make a list of what you are asking your trustee to keep for you, and both of you sign it. If possible, have it notarized. This will be your evidence that you are not in possession of these items, even though you are still the owner.
Remove anything from your person and your car that can be considered a weapon. This includes even the smallest pocket knife, most benign sports equipment (some things can be considered bludgeoning weapons,) any tools not immediately needed, basically anything you think you could be accused of intending to use as a stabbing, slashing, or bludgeoning weapon. If you have a tool shed, put a padlock on it. Entrust the key to the same person to whom you would entrust any weapons you have given up for the duration of this ordeal.
If you have a little pocket knife or bottle opener on your key chain, take it off. If you’re a student, go through your backpack or book bag and do the same thing. Take out any unnecessary sharp objects, including rulers, protractors, and the like (if you are not using them for a class.) If you have to carry anything sharp besides writing utensils for school (ruler, protractor, hobby knives,) get a small box that locks, and keep it in that. Better, ask your professor or teacher if you can leave your tools for class in the classroom until your name has been cleared. Do this not with the attitude that you are paranoid or afraid of getting “busted,” but that you genuinely want to do everything you possibly can to show the court that you are cooperating with the intent of the order. Do not name or blame the girl. Instead, categorize the restraining order as the symptom of a misunderstanding of your attitude and intentions. Be sure to mention that this is a temporary issue, which you hope to have cleared up at your hearing, after which you will resume full responsibility for your classroom tools as usual.
Finally, know that as a man on trial in the family court system, you are guilty until proven innocent. Your whole goal here is that; to prove your innocence. To that end, you need conclusive, physical documentation so that when she lies about you, you have more than just your word contradicting her story. When it comes to proving the truth in family court, there is no such thing as too much documentation. There should never be a moment in your life, from the time you’re served (or alerted that you are going to be served,) to the time you stand before the judge and argue against permanently instating the temporary restraining order, when you can’t offer proof of where you were.
Some Methods of Documentation
- Keep a Journal
This is one anyone can do. Get a cheap, thick notebook, and use it like a logbook. Keep accurate notes in ink detailing your daily activities by the hour. Be 100% accurate; don’t estimate anything. Make sure you are noting all of the following under each day’s date:
The time you wake up. Witnesses to your whereabouts. Your activities, even the really mundane stuff like getting ready for work or watching television. If you use any online service that requires a login, note when you log in and out.
The time you leave home. Your destination, route, and traveling time. Witnesses, if any.
- TIP: Whenever you can, have witnesses sign and date the page in your notebook where their presence is noted. Don’t be obsessive about it (asking acquaintances) but do try to get this concession from friends and family.
Time arrived at destination, activities and witnesses. Any possessions you are carrying.
- note – listing possessions is done in case you are arrested, to assist in getting your stuff back, and help prevent you from being accused of having anything that you did not.
Repeat this cycle for the next location, and the next, until you are writing the time of your arrival at home. Whenever you can, note witnesses for each location, even if they’re not people who are part of your life (the name of the cashier who waited on you at the corner gas station, for instance, especially if that’s a frequent interaction.)
Be sure to note each night what time you go to bed.
- Human Contact
This is another one anyone can do. Get positively remembered by the staff at the businesses you patronize. Be positive and friendly during transactions. As soon as you walk in through a door, smile, say hi, and wave a hand at the nearest employee.
Always smile and greet the people waiting on you, by name whenever you can. Make eye contact. That is vital. People are more likely to remember someone who looked them in the eye.
Exchange small talk (not about your situation – the weather, local news, current events, or favorite “g” rated jokes.)
Get rarely used currency like dollar coins and two dollar bills from a local bank, and pay with those wherever you go. If you always pay with odd currency, cashiers will start to remember you as “the two dollar guy” or “the coin guy.”
Wear bright, boldly colored shirts, or ones with humorous graphics. Wear a silly hat, like one with animal ears, or something else that stands out. Be sure to keep it within your normal character, and sensible. Don’t make a change that a judge will look at as a strike against your character, even if such judgement would be unfair, such as over a new tattoo, piercing, or unnatural hair color.
- Keep Company
As much as you can, avoid going anywhere by yourself. Have a credible, reliable witness to your whereabouts so that when you are accused, there is someone who has seen where you really were and what you were really doing.
For this to work, you really must associate yourself with people who are credible and honest, because her lawyer is going to try to break them down on the stand. It is also preferable that both sexes be represented among your witnesses. Her side will attempt to discredit each sex on a different basis.
She will accuse other men of supporting you out of kinship, under the influence of an alleged “buddy code” or “good old boys network.”
She will accuse your female witnesses of being sexually involved with you, claiming that the alleged relationship gives them reason to lie for you.
Having witnesses of both sexes will make it harder for her to use such accusations effectively.
Do not depend on friends you still have in common for this. For one thing, it puts pressure on the friend to take sides. For another, it can be used by her to paint you as divisive. Worse, if a friend has decided to believe or cooperate with your ex, you could be let down when you need him or her the most or even betrayed with lies. At the very least, this could cost you some friendships.
- Receipts and Security Cameras
Don’t go anywhere without stopping in to a little store somewhere and buying something small and cheap, or noting the time you were there. Always get a receipt when you make a purchase.
Most places where you can shop, as well as most ATMs, will have the time and date of the transaction printed on any receipt you are given. Especially good places to visit for these are corporate owned chain stores, where there will also be security cameras. Security camera footage can be subpoenaed.
- TIP – If you are accused of violating the restraining order and need to prove you were in a place that has cameras, be sure to get that footage as soon as possible, because some places “dump” that footage, which is digital, every 30 days. The business may not give you that footage without a subpoena, but your attorney can handle that request.
Learn where the cameras are at the locations you frequent, so that you can be sure to turn your face toward one when you are entering, and again when you are leaving, so there can be no mistake about when you were there.
Save all of your receipts, organized by date. A good way to do this is to get one of those plastic, divided “envelope” wallets normally used for storing coupons. Do not keep it in your car, as some receipts are on heat transfer paper and will darken if your car gets hot in the sun.
If you don’t have a camera, get one, (preferably one that uses film) or get a few disposable ones. Look for a time/date stamp, but don’t be too disheartened if you don’t find that.
Throughout your day, stop and photograph yourself with your back to a recognizable part of each of the stops on your daily route. Hold the disposable camera at arm’s length pointed toward you, for some focus and so you don’t completely fill the photo. Disposables work best at 4 to 12 feet, so there will be some blur but it will still clearly be you in the image.
If you couldn’t get a camera with a time/date stamp, then whenever you can, get a clock in the picture to show what time you were at that location.
If accused of being in a different place than you were at any given time, you’ll have photographic proof of your actual location.
- Social Networking.
If you have an internet compatible phone, use that to your advantage. Set up an anonymous facebook or twitter account. Use the site’s privacy tools to keep the account private. Do not add any connections to it; it’s just for the purpose of establishing location, time, and date. You don’t want your ex finding it and using it to stalk you.
Use your phone to update your whereabouts throughout the day. Use your phone’s camera as well, and upload a photo of yourself at each location. If possible, use the site’s geotag feature. Make a habit of doing this everywhere you go.
If you have a blackberry, download LittleBrother and set it up to automatically update… but make sure you spend more then two minutes at each location so that the app has time to check you in and send emails. Set up an account just for tracking yourself. Don’t do anything else with that account.
Obviously, it’s not necessary to use all of those methods, but there should be some ways in that list which will help you track yourself so that later, if needed, you can prove your whereabouts and activity during any given time, should you be falsely accused of violating the order.
Follow your attorney’s instructions. When in doubt, call your attorney and ask before taking an action you’re not sure won’t be a violation. Do not assume anything. This is an area that can be more complicated than you think.
When you go to court, take a few people with you for support, even if they are not witnesses. This small group should include someone older than you, and someone female. Having people there to see what is happening will help to keep the elected judge honest. It shows him or her that you are not alone, and that what goes on in the courtroom will be seen and remembered by people who know you. It’s harder to do anything bad in front of witnesses who might go out and talk about it later. However, make sure your supporters know to not be disruptive or disrespectful. No sound should come from them once court is in session, and nothing loud enough to be clearly heard two rows over prior to that. Your folks should be dressed like they would if they were going to an acquaintance’s in-church wedding.
Do not dramatically change your appearance unless your attorney tells you that you should, but do show for court looking tidy, clean, and organized, not sloppy, not with ‘five o’clock shadow’ or a scraggly beard and mustache, or wrinkled clothing. If you have facial piercings, remove the ones that are easily taken out and put back. Do not wear body jewelry that shows through your clothes. It does not matter that there’s nothing wrong with having it. This is not the time to fight that battle.
Dress like you’re going for the most important job interview of your life, because you are. You’re interviewing for the position of being able to get on with your life. If you don’t get hired for that, you’re going to be stuck in the position of my-ex-could-get-me-arrested-at-any-time.
In court, be respectful, cooperative, dignified, and humble.
Do not look at your ex. Do not even turn your face or body in the direction of that side of the courtroom. Fold your hands, set them in front of you, and keep your eyes on them, except when the judge speaks to you. Then, look at the judge. When you are not interacting with the judge, look back at your hands. No matter what sounds you hear coming from your ex’s direction, no matter how animated or loud she becomes, keep your eyes on your hands, or on the judge. Have a notepad and pencil to take notes as needed during the hearing.
Speak only when it is required of you. Your attorney is there for a purpose. Let him or her do that job. If you have a concern during another witness’s testimony, bring it up quietly with your attorney when he or she is seated next to you, so that he or she can figure out the best way to address the issue. If your attorney is not next to you when what you need to say comes up, write it down and show him or her the note when he or she returns to your side.
When asked questions by the judge, answer in the most concise terms possible. Present only facts. Do not gesture. Do not offer opinion. Do not give the judge any reason to think you are being disrespectful.
Especially, do not offer opinion on anything your ex, the court, or “the system” has done to you, no matter how justified that opinion is.
Do not expand on your answers. Do not ramble on with extra information. Anything you say can and will be held against you.
Do not brown-nose, but be sincere, respectful, and honest.
Do not lie, even about things you are afraid will make you look bad if you tell the truth. If you are caught in even one single lie, it will destroy your case. Your credibility will be wrecked. Your journal will be worthless. Even the credibility of your witnesses will be compromised by association.
If you are invited to ask questions and have something to ask, ask respectfully in a non-accusatory manner. Do not blame the judge, the court, or the system for anything. A judge will treat that as a form of disrespect, and evidence against your credibility.
On the stand, when questioned by your ex’s attorney, remain respectful, and remain calm, and sit still. Keep your hands folded in your lap. Continue to not look at your ex. Keep your eyes on the person talking to you, unless he or she deliberately stands close to your ex. Then, look at your attorney. If nothing else, that will help reassure you that you aren’t up there unsupported.
The opposing attorney will attempt to bait your temper. If you raise your voice, increase your hand motions, or display frustration, you have provided the other side with evidence that you are aggressive, even if you are doing so in response to aggression that has been directed at you.
Pause for a breath before you answer any question you are asked. That way, if the question is inappropriate, your attorney has an opening to object. Also, it gives you a moment to collect yourself if the wording of the question is inflammatory or hurtful.
Whether you win or lose this case, keep your dignity. Don’t celebrate or go off. Either one will look bad to the court, and can be used against you if there are subsequent legal actions.
Don’t assume things are over if you win. In case you are dealing with a vexatious litigant, continue to live defensively as if the order is still in effect, at least long enough to establish that your ex isn’t going to do this again. Being turned down for a restraining order does not mean she can’t go right back to the clerk and request another one. I have seen at least one woman do this 5 times before civil action was taken to stop her by the ex she was abusing.
At the very least, don’t relax your standard of keeping evidence of your activities for several months. Keep your journal, keep your receipts, and continue to take people with you when you go places. You may not need any of those precautions, but it’s better to have them in place and not need them, than it is to need them and not have them. In the meantime, be sure you and your attorney follow through the process of ensuring that the legal record is officially cleared/changed to reflect that you are not subject to a restraining order, as would be reflected in background checks for various purposes.
Don’t assume things are over if you lose, either. If you feel that you have been wrongfully subjected to a restraining order, talk to your attorney about filing an appeal. Continue to behave the same as you did when the original order was in effect, and document any harassment of you, or of your friends and family by the holder, including attempts to approach, phone calls, or any other contact initiated by the holder of the order. Be prepared for a hard fight, but do not give up if you are in the right. The more people roll over for this, the more people will think they can get away with it.
If you like what you read, please consider becoming Hannah Wallen’s patron. The Brigade runs on donations by readers like you.
- Relational aggression and victim gender – a tale of two standards | HBR Talk 165 - January 14, 2021
- Antifeminism, relational aggression, and the men’s rights movement | HBR Talk 164 - January 7, 2021
- Update with Deborah Powney | HBR Talk 163 - December 31, 2020