Preparing for your restraining order hearing at court

IN the last column, we covered how to obtain a domestic violence restraining order. In short, a domestic violence restraining order is a legal document from the court that states your abuser cannot contact you or come near you.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and need protection, you may want to apply for a restraining order against your abuser. The requirements for applying for a restraining order will vary from state to state, so you may need to find assistance at the court’s self-help center, from a non-profit organization, or from a private attorney.

In today’s column, we will provide basic information to help you prepare for your court hearing once you have filed your request for a restraining order and the court has provided you with a hearing date and location. You may already have obtained a temporary restraining order, but the hearing is to determine whether the court will issue you a permanent restraining order.

Keep in mind that the information below is not a substitute for legal advice. For advice about your individual situation, you should consult with an experienced, trustworthy family law attorney.

What should I bring with me to the court hearing?

Bring two copies of any documents you filed with the court.  You should always have two sets of copies ready — one for yourself and an extra copy in case the court or your opposing party does not have all of the documents.

Specifically, you should bring the Proof of Service, a document which verifies that you had the opposing party personally served with the restraining order documents.  You should check your local court forms for detailed requirements. The server is the individual who actually gave your opposing party the documents in person, and he or she must have signed the Proof of Service.  As long as the server properly completed service, the court can proceed with the restraining order hearing, even if the opposing party does not show up.

You will also want to bring any documents and witnesses that support your request for a permanent restraining order.  Common supporting evidence include police reports, medical reports, and photographs. Witnesses may include individuals that witnessed any of the opposing party’s abuse against you.  Remember that you must show the opposing party any documents that you plan to show the judge.

How long will everything take?

You may have to wait several minutes or hours for the judge to call your case, depending on how busy the courtroom is. Once the courtroom opens, make sure to check in with the court clerk or officer. When you hear the judge call your name, you and your opposing party will go to the front of the courtroom. The hearing itself may take a few minutes or as long as two hours.  It will depend on different factors, including the judge, the number of cases he or she has to hear that day, any witnesses, and other factors.

What will happen during the hearing?

The exact format of the hearing will vary from judge to judge. After the judge asks you your name and other preliminary questions, you should inform him or her about any supporting witnesses or evidence that you have not yet shown the court. The judge will then most likely want to hear your side of the story first.  Make sure to answer the question being asked and speak slowly and truthfully.  If you do not understand the question you have been asked, you can ask the judge to clarify or repeat his or her question. Once the judge has finished asking you questions, he or she will give the opposing party or his or her attorney the opportunity to ask you questions.  If you have a witness, the judge may ask him or her questions or allow you to do so.  As with your testimony, your witness will also be questioned by the other party or his or her attorney.

Next, the opposing party will get the opportunity to tell his or her story.  The judge or the other party’s attorney will ask him or her questions. You will also have the opportunity to ask him or her questions about the answers provided, and this will be the only time you are permitted to speak directly to him or her.  Towards the end of the hearing, both parties may be allowed to make closing statements before the judge makes the final decision on whether to grant you a permanent restraining order.

Make sure you understand all of the orders the judge makes verbally and to get a copy of the restraining order paperwork before leaving the courtroom. If the paper order is different from what the judge stated, tell the court clerk immediately.

What should I do if I can’t speak English well?

In Los Angeles County courts, you can request an interpreter for your court hearing online: http://www.lacourt.org/irud/ui/index.aspx?ct=SC. Otherwise, you should call the courtroom in advance of the hearing and request that they provide an interpreter. You should also remind the clerk of your interpreter request when you check-in on the day of the hearing.  If you think you might have difficulty communicating with the clerk in English, you should bring a friend or family member that can make the request on your behalf.

If you have questions about your situation or need legal assistance, please contact Advancing Justice – L.A’s Tagalog helpline at 855-300-2552.

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Lou Marie Reyes is a community legal advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. She joined the organization in February 2018 and staffs the Tagalog helpline, which prioritizes in-language assistance to the local Filipino community. Ms. Reyes works alongside Advancing Justice – LA’s attorneys that specialize in family law, domestic violence, citizenship and immigration, and employment law.

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