Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a short-term civil order issued by a judge or magistrate in state or federal court. The order forbids a person from engaging in some threatened action against someone else (typically having contact with someone else). Temporary restraining orders are common in cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, divorce, harassment, and failed business relationships. The court usually holds a hearing before issuing a temporary restraining order. The amount of time that a TRO has effect is set by statute and usually ranges between 2 and 30 days.

How Is a TRO Filed?

A court may issue a temporary injunction when it issues a temporary restraining order. The injunction prohibits the defendant from engaging in undesirable behavior such as threatening or harassing the plaintiff. A plaintiff requesting a temporary restraining order should be prepared to prove the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, the extent to which the plaintiff is being irreparably harmed by the defendant, the defendant’s rights will not be irreparably harmed by the order, and the order is in the public interest.

A TRO is one type of restraining order. A court may issue other types of restraining orders, such as an emergency protective order or a final order. An emergency protective order typically precedes a temporary restraining order, can be issued without a hearing, and may be requested by a law enforcement officer. An emergency protective order usually has effect for a week or less. A final order is usually issued after a full hearing at which the defendant and plaintiff are present and can last for years.  

The court has the power to issue a temporary restraining order ex parte; in the absence of the plaintiff or defendant at the hearing. The court issues a TRO ex parte if the court finds notice should not be required and there is a reasonable probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the merits. When a plaintiff applies for a temporary restraining order, the court typically attempts to schedule a full hearing soon after the hearing for the TRO.

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Violating a Temporary Restraining Order

Since a temporary restraining order is issued in civil court, a violation does not carry the same penalties as a violation of a condition of pre-trial release in a criminal case or parole granted by a parole board. When the defendant violates a TRO, he can be charged with civil contempt of court. A defendant is entitled to a hearing to dispute the alleged violation. If the court finds the defendant in violation, it can penalize the defendant with a fine and up to a year in jail.

TRO Fees

There are typically no fees to file a case and serve a defendant when requesting a temporary restraining order in a domestic violence or elder abuse case. There may be a fee for the services of a Guardian ad Litem for a child abuse case. There may be fees to file and serve in a divorce, harassment, or failed business relationship case. A plaintiff can ask the court to waive the fees. A temporary restraining order cannot be appealed to a higher court. A TRO may be modified or dissolved by the court that issued the order.