Friday, September 01, 2006

California Law: Should I Get a Restraining Order?

Question: I have a neighbor who has been harassing me for two years. Every time I call the police, they tell me there is nothing they can do without more proof. They advised me to get a restraining order. What should I do?

Answer: If a police officer or sheriff's deputy advises you to get a restraining order, you would do well to heed the advice. Neighbor-to-neighbor disputes are very difficult on law enforcement officers because the officers often have little evidence to go on. A harassment restraining order is a court order signed by a judge that gives law enforcement officers very clear instructions regarding the prohibited activities. A court order gives law enforcement officers and objective standard to uphold, which is much easier to enforce than subjective complaints.

You can obtain a civil harassment restraining if you are being harassed by someone who does not live with you such as a friend, neighbor or even a stranger. If someone lives with you or if you have a "domestic relationship" with the person who is harassing you, then you should obtain a domestic violence restraining order.

A civil harassment order can last up to three years. The court will charge a filing fee, but the court can waive this fee based on your ability to pay or if the abuser has caused physical harm to you.

You may qualify for a civil harassment order if the harasser has intentionally commits a series of acts (more than one) which are frightening, annoying or harassing, and which have caused you "substantial emotional distress". The harasser does not have to be related to you in any way, but you must be able to identify the person and find him or her to serve the papers.

A civil harassment order can order the harasser:
  • to stay away from the victim, the victim's home, school, work or children's school;
  • not to telephone or contact the victim;
  • not to frighten, intimidate, annoy or harass the victim;
  • not to threaten or make any physical contact with the victim;
  • not to keep the victim under surveillance or follow the victim; and
  • not to block the victim's movement in public places.

It can also protect the victim's family or anyone else in the home from the harassment and can order the person who lost the case (either the harasser or the victim) to pay the other person's court costs and attorney's fees.

If you have been the victim of harassment, please contact us if you need further assistance.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

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