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Georgia Restraining Orders: Divorce, Family Violence & Stalking

In Georgia, there are two essential types of restraining orders that my clients might encounter: Temporary Protective Orders (TPO) and Mutual Restraining Orders (MRO). TPOs involve allegations of family violence or stalking and MROs are automatically part of any divorce, modification of custody or other domestic action in Georgia.

Although a TPO and MRO are each enforceable court orders that prohibit (or restrain) one or both of the parties from engaging in a particular sort of behavior, TPOs and MROs are completely different from one another. Whereas almost any superior court in Georgia will require that parties to a divorce or domestic action adhere to a generic Mutual Restraining Order to prevent the parties from shutting off home utilities, selling/liquidating/transferring marital assets, changing auto and health insurance or removing children from the jurisdiction of the court (though children can still be taken on a temporary out-of-state trip), a TPO falls under a special statutory scheme to provide for the protection of a party. The behavior that a TPO restrains is that of contact between parties.

A TPO can be sought and obtained when a party can make an initial threshold showing to a judge that another party has committed an act of family violence or stalking and that the acts of violence or stalking are likely to continue unless a court enters an order prohibiting the offending party from having any contact with the complaining party. The complaining party (a.k.a. Petitioner) initially appears before the court without the other party having any opportunity to respond (this is called and "ex parte" hearing) and, if the court issues the ex parte TPO, a hearing will be set for the opposing party (a.k.a. Respondent) to appear at a full hearing. In the meantime, the Respondent can be forcibly removed from his/her home (if the parties reside together) and the Respondent cannot have any direct or indirect contact through any means with the Petitioner pending the outcome of the upcoming hearing.

While violating a divorce/domestic Mutual Restraining Order is certainly not a good idea and may subject an offending party to contempt penalties, a violation of a Temporary Protective Order can result in immediate police arrest for an offense of Aggravated Stalking (a very serious felony offense with no bond) or for a charge of Violation of TPO (a serious misdemeanor). If nothing else, it is the immediacy of severe consequences upon a party's violation that distinguishes a TPO from an MRO -- i.e. immediate police arrest (TPO) vs. contempt hearing in court (MRO). If the TPO is upheld at the full hearing, or if the parties consent to the entry of a TPO, then the penalties for violating the TPO are the same is in the ex parte phase, i.e., violations can result in immediate arrest and possible long-term incarceration. This is the case whether the basis of the TPO is for family violence or for stalking.

TPOs last for six (6) months to a year, although a Petitioner can – prior to the expiration of the TPO -- request that the TPO be extended for a maximum of three (3) years. An MRO to prevent the parties from dissipating assets or changing insurance or utilities, etc., will, on the other hand, expire when the divorce/domestic action is concluded, unless the parties otherwise agree. Moreover, a TPO court can set conditions of either an ex-parte or terms that affect parenting, visitation, support, alimony and sharing of household expenses, and is highly tailored to the individual circumstances of each case. An MRO instead contains boilerplate restrictive terms that apply to each and every party in a divorce or domestic action.

Restraining Orders in Georgia – whether it is a TPO or MRO, or whether the case involves family violence, stalking, divorce, child custody, modification or other action – should be very carefully considered any time someone is dealing with litigation in Georgia. With almost 20 years of experience in dealing with the ins and outs of temporary protective orders and mutual restraining orders in Georgia, I always advise my clients to seek my advice and effort on their behalf when facing a restraining order.

At Fox Firm, P.C. we strive to manage our clients' cases in a way that always serves to protect our clients, not the other way around. If you have a need to hire a lawyer to represent you for a Gwinnett or other Georgia county TPO or for a divorce or family law case action with an MRO, please don't hesitate to consider adding to your own protection by hiring Fox Firm and my near-20 years of experience to serve you.