Difference Between Restraining Order and Protective Order

Restraining Order vs Protective Order

Identifying the difference between restraining order and protective order is somewhat complex as the line between them is extremely thin. Protective and Restraining Orders represent two types of orders issued by a court in order to protect someone from harm or harassment. Indeed, many sources, including legal sources, classify both terms as meaning one and the same thing. Although the purpose of both terms might be similar, they differ in one or two aspects. Let’s examine this closely.

What is a Protective Order?

A Protective Order, also known as an Order of Protection, is defined as a court order, direction or command to protect a person from harassment, service of process or discovery. They are civil orders issued with the aim of preventing a person from committing certain acts against another. The nature of the Protective Order and the type of person requesting for such an Order will determine its subject matter. Thus, in most cases, such Orders are issued to persons who are victims of domestic violence. A Protective Order seeks to protect the physical and psychological health of a person. Orders state that the person inflicting such abuse or violence must cease from making threats, stalking, or harming the other person. Such a person is also ordered to cease all contact with the person and not to visit or see the person in any form or manner. This often specifies a certain geographical distance that must be maintained between the two parties. Generally, the court issues such Orders for spouses or family members. Thus, a spouse or another family member may apply to the court to issue a Protective Order in relation to other family members such as children. Such Orders are usually valid for a year although they can be issued for a period exceeding one year at the court’s discretion. If a person violates a Protective Order, then the person will be charged with a criminal offence based on the circumstances and nature of the violation. In this sense, a Protective Order represents a strict order issued by court protecting spouses and/or children and thereby preventing domestic and family violence.

A Protective Order also refers to an order issued in relation to a legal process. Thus, such an Order will prohibit the disclosure of sensitive information in a legal proceeding, which would adversely affect the rights of a party if disclosed. It also protects parties to a legal action or even witnesses from unfair requests for discovery. An example of this is when a party poses harassing questions to a party or witness in a deposition or when the Order restricts the inspection of certain documents. Furthermore, a Protective Order is also issued to ensure that the process of litigation is not used to cause unnecessary burden, harassment, expense or shame to someone.

Difference Between Restraining Order and Protective Order

Protective Order can restrict the inspection of certain documents

What is a Restraining Order?

Traditionally, a Restraining Order is defined as a court order or command restricting a person from doing something or ordering a person to refrain from a certain activity. The instances that fall within the purview of a Restraining Order are several. In most cases, Restraining Orders are issued by the court to prevent domestic violence. As like a Protective Order, the court will order a person to refrain from harassing, contacting, threatening, or even coming close to their spouse or family member. Further, the court may also issue Restraining Orders to persons who are subjected to harassment in general. Such Orders may be issued against individuals who have caused excessive harassment or even against corporations or organizations that have encouraged or promoted such harassment.

Restraining Orders are often granted in times of emergency as a temporary relief against harm or harassment. It is also typically issued while there is an ongoing legal proceeding or pending a legal hearing. Such Orders are also issued in relation to employment disputes or copyright infringement actions. Unlike a Protective Order, Restraining Orders are generally temporary and issued for a period of 3 or 6 months. If a person violates the Order, that person will be charged with contempt of court and may be ordered to pay a fine or serve time in jail.

 Restraining Order vs Protective Order

Retraining Order restricts a person from doing something

What is the difference between Restraining Order and Protective Order?

Protective Orders and Restraining Orders are issued by a court of law to protect a person, prevent harm and harassment, and restrict a person from doing something. The two Orders might appear to have the same purpose. However, they differ in their duration and circumstances.

• A Protective Order, for instance, is issued by the court to protect a person from domestic violence. Thus, Protective Orders mostly focus on spouses or family members subjected to domestic violence. Such Orders are also issued in a litigation process to prevent another party from disclosing certain information and causing undue harassment and burden to the other party.

• A Restraining Order, in contrast, is usually a form of quick, temporary relief sought by a person seeking to prevent harm or harassment. Like Protective Orders, Restraining Orders are also issued against persons causing domestic violence. However, it can also be issued to any person who is subjected to harassment by other individuals or organizations.

• Protective Orders are typically issued for a period of one year although this may vary. But, Restraining Orders are most often temporary and typically issued for a period of 3 or 6 months.

• Further, the consequences of violation of a Restraining Order are not as serious as those that result from the violation of a Protective Order.

Keep in mind, however, that the definition, nature and duration of both a Protective and Restraining Order may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Therefore, states might interpret the terms differently.


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  1. Documents by Kotivalo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Gavel via Pixabay (Public Domain)