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By: the California Crime and Violence Prevention Center

How to file a Restraining Order

A quick overview of the legal system

The legal system is divided into two areas: civil law and criminal law.

Civil Law

Under civil law, one person sues another for a private wrong. In a civil domestic violence action, you are asking the court to resolve the conflict between you and your abuser. You are not asking the court to punish your abuser for committing a crime. The restraining orders we talk about on this page are under the civil law system.

Criminal Law

The criminal law system handles cases that involve crimes such as harassment, assault, murder, stalking, and theft. The police may arrest your abuser and then the district attorney may decide to charge your abuser with a crime. In many cases you can choose whether or not to "press charges," but once someone is arrested, the district attorney is the one who decides whether to charge that person with a crime and how to proceed with it.

Domestic violence cases may involve both civil and criminal action.

What is a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO)?

A Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) is a civil court order that is signed by a judge and tells your abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both women and men victims.

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in CA?

California's Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) defines domestic violence as threatened or actual abuse from someone with whom you have had a close relationship.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Act is designed to protect you or your children under the age of 18 who live with you from actual or threatened violence, such as:

  • Physical injuries;

  • Sexual assault;

  • Attacking, striking, or battering;

  • Molesting;

  • Harassing;

  • Stalking;

  • Harassing or threatening telephone calls;

  • Destroying personal property;

  • Disturbing your peace; and

  • Threatening to do any of the above.

Under the DVPA, abuse can be physical, sexual, or verbal. It can include spoken and written abuse.
  • To read the exact wording of the law, please see the definitions section on the CA Legal Statutes page.

Note: If the acts of your abuser do not fit in this definition, you may still be eligible for a Civil Harassment Order.

Am I eligible to file for a DVRO?

You can file for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order if you, or your minor child, have been the victims of domestic violence from:

  • A spouse or former spouse;

  • A person you are dating or used to date (it does not have to be an intimate or sexual relationship);

  • The mother or father of your child;

  • A person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption (such as a mother, father, child, brother, sister, grandparent, or in-law);

  • A person who regularly lives or used to live in your home (but you must have a closer relationship than just roommates).

  • Minors 12 years old or older can file for restraining orders without the assistance of a parent or guardian. Same-sex partners are also eligible to file for restraining orders.

To read the exact wording of the law, please see the definitions section on the CA Legal Statutes page.

What types of orders are there? How long do they last?

There are three types of Domestic Violence Restraining Orders:

Emergency Protective Order

  1. If a police officer responds to a domestic violence call, the police officer can call a judge (anytime, day or night) and ask for an emergency protective order, which goes into effect immediately.

  2. An emergency protective order can last only five business days or seven calendar days (whichever is shorter). It is supposed to give you time to go to court to ask for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, which lasts longer.

  3. The emergency protective order can make the other person leave the home, stay away from you, and not see your children, at least on a temporary basis.

Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order

When you go to court to apply for a restraining order, the clerk will give you a date, usually within three weeks, when you will have to come back to court for a full hearing.

If you are in immediate danger and need protection right away, you can ask for a Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order, which will last for up to 15 days, or until you have your full-court hearing, which is usually three weeks. You can get this temporary order "ex parte", which means you can get it without your abuser being there.

Restraining Order After Hearing

After having a court hearing, a judge can grant you a Restraining Order After Hearing that can last up to five years. This order is designed to keep your abuser from threatening, harassing, or abusing you. You can ask the court later to have the order extended for another five years, or permanently. The court can make this extension if it believes you have a "reasonable" fear that your abuser will threaten, harass, or abuse you again once the first restraining order expires. Note: There do not need to be new incidences of abuse in order to get the order extended.

How can a DVRO help me?

A Domestic Violence Restraining Order may:

  • Order the abuser not to assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass, or interfere with you, your children, or people you live with in person, at work, on the telephone, or by other means;

  • Order the abuser to stay away from any place you request including your school, your children's school, your work place, your friends' homes, or any place where you are seeking shelter;

  • Prohibit the abuser from possessing or purchasing a firearm;

  • Tell the police to remove the abuser from the home and help you to return to the home;

  • Grant you temporary full control over things that you own together such as a car, a truck, a boat, a computer, tolls, electronic equipment, bank accounts, or household appliances;

  • Order the abuser to continue to make the loan payments (be sure to specifically ask for this if you need it);

  • Order the abuser to return your personal belongings;

  • Order the abuser to pay certain bills, pay back money you lost for missing work or other expenses (such as ambulance, medical, dental, shelter, counseling and/or legal fees);

  • Order the abuser to pay your attorney fees;

  • Order the abuser to attend a batterer's treatment program or other counseling service;

  • Anything else you ask for any the judge agrees to.

If you and your abuser have children together, you may also ask the judge to grant additional things such as:

  • Child custody and visitation - If you and your abuser have children together, the judge can decide where the children will live, which parent will make decisions affecting the children, and how the children will spend time with each parent (where, when, and whether supervised).

  • Removal of child - You may ask the judge to keep either or both parents from traveling or moving outside the city, county, area, or state with the children.

  • Child support payments - You may ask the judge to order your abuser to pay child support according to California’s guidelines.

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

There are no fees for filing for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.

You do not need a lawyer to file for a DVRO. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if your abuser has a lawyer. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the CA Links & Resources page. Domestic violence organizations in your area also should be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals.

What are the steps involved with obtaining a DVRO?

Step 1 - Get the Request. You can file (apply) for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order at the court in the county where your abuser lives or where the abuse happened. Find the civil court clerk, the person who keeps court records and files. Ask him or her for a Request (application) for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. To find the courthouse in your county, go to CA Courthouse Locations & Info.

Step 2 - Fill out the forms. In the Court Clerk's Office, ask for all the forms you will need to file for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. You can find links to forms online, and a list of all the forms you may need, at our Download Court Forms page. Be sure to tell the clerk if you think you need protection right away and want a Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order.

Tips for Filling out Court Forms:

  • Use the instruction booklet for line-by-line instructions in filling out and filing Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) forms. The booklet will be market "DV-150". To find online links to these instructions, go to the Download Court Forms page.

  • Use a typewriter or write neatly to fill out court forms. There are also computer programs you can use that to fill out your DVPA forms. In some counties, you may turn in a handwritten form if your handwriting is easy to read. Ask the clerk of court if you can turn in a handwritten form. (You will find contact numbers for clerks on the CA Courthouse Locations & Info page.)

  • Keep your court papers safe in a special folder. Be sure you keep a clean copy of all of your court papers. Bring this folder with you every time you go to the clerk's office or to a court hearing.

  • Ask the clerk if there are any special local rules about the forms you need or about how the forms must be filled out (like paper or ink color) and when you have to tell the person to be restrained that you are asking for a restraining order. (You will find contact numbers for clerks on the CA Courthouse Locations & Info page.)

Step 3 - File completed forms and get a court hearing date. You can file your forms either by mail or in person. Most people choose to file in person, so that nothing gets lost and they can get their orders as soon as possible. If you file by mail, it will take a few extra days, and you must send an extra copy and a stamped, self-addressed envelope so the court clerk can mail you an official (filed) copy of each form.

Only a judge can review applications for or give you a temporary (ex parte) restraining order. The judge may sign the order the same day you ask for it, but if you file in a really busy court or if you file later in the day, the order might not be signed until the next court day. A temporary restraining order will make orders that last from the time you file for your restraining order until your full court hearing.

Whether or not you get a temporary order, the clerk will tell you when to come back for your court hearing, generally about three weeks later. Then the clerk will write down when and where your hearing will be on all of the copies of your court forms. The court clerk will keep the original set of court forms, and give you a photocopied set.

  • NOTE: You must go to the scheduled court hearing. If you do not go, the judge may dismiss (throw out) your case. If you absolutely cannot go for some reason, call the clerk of court to find out how to get a continuance (this is when the hearing is rescheduled for later) and have the Temporary order "reissued".

Step 4 - Service of process. The law requires that the abuser be given formal notice that you have filed for a restraining order. In fact, the judge cannot make any long-term orders or judgments unless the abuser has been properly personally “served” with copies of your forms. You cannot be the one to give these forms to your abuser. Your forms can be personally served by anyone over 18 years of age who is not involved in your case, such as a friend, a relative, the county sheriff, or a professional process server. (Go to the CA Sheriff Dept. Locations & Info to find out how they can help you serve these papers.)

Whoever serves these forms must give the abuser an easy-to-read copy of all the forms that you filed with the court AND a blank Answer to Temporary Restraining Order. This form is labeled Form DV-120, and the court will give it to you.

You may not have to pay to have the court forms served on your abuser. The sheriff or marshall must serve domestic violence restraining orders for free. Your county may require that you fill out a "fee waiver application" in order to have the sheriff serve the order for free. (Go to CA Sheriff Dept. Locations & Info.) If you hire a professional process server to serve your abuser, you must pay separately for that.

You will also have to fill out a Proof of Service Form, Form DV-140. This form will let the judge know that your abuser got the forms. Once you've filled out your part, give this to the process server with your other forms.

Step 5 - Deadline for serving your abuser. Your abuser has the right to know that you asked for a restraining order against him. He also has the right to respond to what you say in your court papers. In many counties, the court will give you an "order shortening time" which allows you to serve him just 5 days before the hearing. One of your forms - called Application of Order - has a place to ask for this "order shortening time for service" which gives you more time to serve your abuser.

Depending on whether the judge allows you more time to serve the abuser (the court & forms will call him/her the "respondent"), s/he will have anywhere from 10 to 2 days before the hearing to file his/her own form to answer what you said in your forms. This form is called the Responsive Declaration to Order to Show Cause, Form DV-120. If you could not have your abuser served on time, you must file an Reissue Temporary Restraining Order, Form DV-125. This form tells the court that you could not have the abuser served in time and explains why. It asks the court for more time for service. You can also ask the judge to extend any temporary restraining orders until your new hearing date.

Step 6 - Go to your Court Hearing. The judge cannot make a final decision about your restraining order unless you go to the court hearing. You should get there early and bring: