Step 1 - Get the request (application).
You can get the request (application) for a domestic violence restraining order from the court clerk. To find the courthouse in your county, go to CA Courthouse Locations. Petitions can also be submitted electronically over the internet instead of going to the courthouse.1
1 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6306.5(a)(1)
Step 2 - Fill out the forms.
In the court clerk’s office, ask for all the forms that you will need to file for a domestic violence restraining order. You can also find links to forms online on our CA 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. You should be given an instruction booklet in court for line-by-line instructions on how to fill out the forms.
Step 3 - Issuance of a temporary ex parte order and get a court hearing date.
Give your forms to the clerk. S/he will then give them to the judge who may or may not want to speak to you. The judge will review your application for a temporary ex parte restraining order and may grant you an ex parte temporary order that same day. However, if you file in a really busy court or if you file late in the day, the order might not be signed until the next court day. If you get a temporary restraining order, it will last from the time you file for your restraining order until your full court hearing. If you file your petition for a DVRO electronically, the temporary ex parte order will be issued electronically.1
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. The clerk should write down when and where your hearing will be on the copies of your court forms.
Note: You must go to the scheduled court hearing. If you do not go, the judge may dismiss your case. If you absolutely cannot go for some reason, call the court clerk to find out how to get a continuance for a later date and have the temporary order reissued. According to the law, either party may request a continuance of the hearing, which the judge should grant if there is “good cause” to do so. The request may be made in writing before or at the hearing or orally at the hearing.2
1 Cal.Fam.Code § 6306.5(a)(1), (a)(2)
2 CA Civil Code §§ 245; 240
Step 4 - Service of process
The law requires that the abuser be given formal notice that you have filed for a restraining order. Your forms can be personally served by anyone over 18 years of age who is not involved in your case,1 such as a friend, a relative, law enforcement, or a professional process server. You cannot be the one to give these forms to the abuser. (If you want the sheriff to serve the papers, go to the CA Sheriff Departments to locate a sheriff near you.) The court will decide how many days before the court date the abuser has to be served.
You do not have to pay to have the court forms served on the abuser if law enforcement serves the papers.2 If you hire a professional process server to serve the abuser, you must pay him/her on your own.
If you were not able to have the abuser served before the court date, you can ask the judge for a new hearing date and another temporary restraining order. There is a specific form that will need to be filled out to request that the hearing is continued and it must be done before the hearing. If the judge believes that you made a “diligent effort” to accomplish personal service, the judge can allow an alternative method of service if there is reason to believe that the abuser is purposefully avoiding (evading) service. Alternative methods of service include, but are not limited to:
- service by publication, which is when the summons is published in a newspaper that is most likely to give actual notice to the party to be served and a copy is mailed to the abuser’s address (if known)
- service by mail, return receipt requested, to the most current address for the abuser; or
- delivering a copy of the court papers to the respondent’s home or place of employment in care of someone who is at least 18 years old and then mailing a copy to the address where it was delivered.3
Whoever serves the court papers on the abuser will have to fill out a proof of service form. This form will let the judge know that the abuser was served with the forms. Make sure that you get this form back after it is filled out because it is your responsibility to file it in court. Before filing the proof of service form in court, make five copies of it – then bring the original and five copies to court. The clerk will keep the original and give you back the copies stamped “Filed.” Take a copy to your hearing and attach another copy to the restraining order that you carry with you as proof that it was served.2
Note: If a law enforcement officer sees any firearm or other deadly weapon in plain sight when serving a domestic violence restraining order or a gun violence restraining order, s/he must take it into police custody.4
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
1 Cal.C.C.P. § 414.10
2 Cal. Fam. Code § 6383(b)(3)
3 Cal. Fam. Code § 6340(a)(2)(A); Cal. C.C.P. §§ 415.50(b); 415.20
4 Cal. Fam. Code § 6383(i)(2)
Step 5 - Go to your court hearing.
To get a final restraining order, you must attend to the court hearing either in person or remotely1 and prove that the abuser has committed an act(s) of domestic violence (as defined by the law) against you or your children. It would likely be best if you had a lawyer with you to represent you at the hearing. If you can’t get a lawyer before your court date, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer. It is up to the judge whether or not to grant your request. According to the law, either party may request a continuance of the hearing, which the judge should grant if there is “good cause” to do so. The request may be made in writing before or at the hearing or orally at the hearing.2 Go to CA Finding a Lawyer to find legal help.
Here are some tips to remember when going to court for the hearing:
- Get to court on time – or, even better, get there early;
- Bring copies of all of the forms that you already filed in court or that you have to file; evidence that will help you prove that you need the DVRO, such as witnesses who saw the abuse, photos of any injuries; medical, repair, or other bills that are related to the domestic violence you suffered; relevant police reports; and other papers that are important to your case. (For any document you want the judge to look at, bring the original and two copies. Give the court clerk or bailiff one copy to give to the abuser.) If you are asking for child support, you can try to meet with the court’s family law facilitator to find out how much child support you could get, and take these documents to court as well:
- your last three pay stubs;
- your most recent federal and state tax returns; and
- proof of child care or uninsured health care expenses for the child;
- If at all possible, arrange for someone to watch your child while you go to court. If that is not possible, some courthouses have children’s waiting rooms but you should call your courthouse to find out if this is an option before you go to court. For contact information, go to CA Courthouse Locations; and
- If your child has important information about the violence or threats, ask an attorney, a victim witness counselor, or the domestic violence counselor about how to have the judge hear from your child. To find someone who can help you with this, go to CA Advocates and Shelters;
- Check in with the clerk or bailiff as soon as you get to court. If the abuser is also at the court, and you are worried about your safety, tell the clerk or bailiff so that they can help you. After you have checked in, take a seat and wait until your case is called.
Note: Even if you cannot find an attorney to represent you, you may want to try to talk to an attorney to get advice as to what types of evidence you can bring to court and other ways to represent yourself. You can also go to our At the Hearing page for more information when representing yourself.
1 Cal.Fam.Code § 6308(a)
2 CA Civil Code §§ 245; 240
Step 6 - After the hearing
Once the judge has signed the restraining order after hearing form, take all the copies to the clerk’s office so they can be stamped and returned to you.
You are entitled to three free certified copies of the DVRO from the court clerk.1 Your order does not have to be certified to be enforced, but in some counties, law enforcement demand a certified copy anyway. You will need one copy of the final court order for each law enforcement agency you want to give the order to, the abuser, your children’s school or daycare provider, and others who will help enforce the court order, and two copies for yourself. The court may charge a fee if you need more than three certified copies of your DVRO.
If you get confused about exactly what the judge has ordered, you can ask for a copy of the “minute order,” which is usually available from the court clerk a few days after the hearing. The minute order is what the court clerk writes down as the judge tells what order is s/he granting. You can also purchase a copy of the transcript from the court reporter, which will include everything that was said during the hearing. (The transcript can be very expensive, so ask for an estimate before requesting one.) However, the information in the transcript or minute order will not be looked at by the police when enforcing the DVRO. Only the terms written in the order will be enforced, so please be sure that you read the order carefully before leaving court to make sure that it has the terms in it that you expected it to have.
1 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6387