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About Abuse

Information for Teens and Young Adults

Updated: 
September 3, 2019

What is a restraining order, and what does it do?

A restraining order, also known as a protective order, order of protection, or many other names, is a court order that a victim can get for free. Sometimes, a minor can even file for a restraining order without involving his/her parents but this will depend on the laws of each state. A judge can generally issue a restraining order against an abusive partner or ex-partner and require him/her to stop abusing you. The order may also state that your partner cannot contact you, has to stay away from you, and may include many other protections, such as forcing the abuser to switch schools if you attend the same school. Please see our Restraining Orders pages for your state to find out how to apply for an order in your state.

The requirements for getting a restraining order, exactly what protections you can get from a restraining order, and how “abuse” is defined are different in each state. In addition, as mentioned above, not all states allow minors to get a restraining order on their own without an adult’s help. If you’re under 18 and need a restraining order, please see Am I eligible for a restraining order even though I am under 18?

Am I eligible for a restraining order even though I am under 18?

In some states, you can file for a restraining order on your own, without an adult’s involvement, even if you’re under 18. Most states that allow minors to apply for restraining orders on their own require that you be at least 16 years old. A few, however, let minors of any age, or sometimes minors 12 or older, go to court without an adult. In other states, an adult (often a parent, guardian, or domestic violence professional) has to file on your behalf.

Whether you can get a restraining order if you’re a minor is determined by state law, and may depend on different factors, including:

  • if an adult, like a parent, guardian, or domestic violence professional files on your behalf;
  • whether you are married or have children with the abuser;
  • if the abuser is a minor, whether your state allows orders to be issued against minors; and
  • other factors set by the law.

To find out what your state requires, read the question called Can a minor get an order? in the domestic violence restraining order section in your state. You can also contact a local domestic violence advocate from our Advocates and Shelters page to get help understanding your state’s requirements for minors.

Even if your state requires an adult to assist you in applying for an order, you may still be able to file without a parent or guardian if you can convince the judge to make an exception. In some states, the law allows what is referred to as a “next friend” to apply for you, which could be a trusted adult other than a parent/guardian. In other states, a judge may select or approve a “guardian ad litem,” who is someone that represents your interests during the litigation (court proceeding). It could be a lawyer or a non-lawyer, or even someone you choose, depending on the state. You can find free and paid lawyers in your state on our Finding a Lawyer page. Some states also specifically allow domestic violence advocates to apply on a minor’s behalf.