Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
Protective order, restraining order and peace bond are three legal terms regarding people’s behavior that vary in important ways. Only one of these are issued by a Justice of the Peace. The others are matters for higher courts. People often confuse these terms and think they are interchangeable since they all deal with placing restraints on behavior.
Let’s start with the one my court can issue. A peace bond orders a person making threats to you or your property to deposit money with the court, which will be lost if they commit the threatened crime. This order happens when one person has threatened another but not harmed them or their property. This order lasts for a year and can be filed by you in Justice Court.
Next is the temporary restraining order. You and your spouse are divorcing and you are afraid they will take property, harass you or your children. The TRO orders the party to refrain from harming you or your property and from threatening or harassing you or your children. It is not restricted to divorce cases but can be ordered during any civil trial when appropriate. The order lasts as long as your lawsuit and should be filed in the same court hearing your lawsuit.
Last is the protective order. This is always in cases of family violence. You have been harmed by a family member or romantic partner and you fear the abuser will harm you again. The order requires the party to stay away from you, your home, your work and your school. It can even suspend the party’s right to carry a gun. Protective orders are filed through the County Attorney’s office and can last up to two years.
Now for the tricky part. How do we define harm? In regard to the protective order, Sec 71.003 of the Texas Family Code defines family violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself; (2) abuse, as that term is defined by Sections 261.001 by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household; or (3) dating violence, as that term is defined by Section 71.0021.”
Emotional and mental injury is only defined by law as it relates to the child. Thus, if you’re in a situation where your spouse has not physically harmed you, a protective order can’t be issued. A partner who is controlling of your time, manipulative, blames you for anything that goes wrong or threatens to take your children away is emotionally abusive. This kind of abuse may never escalate to physical violence and never qualify for a protective order. However, it is just as damaging to you and your children as physical violence.
If your partner has raised a fist to you but not struck you, that is “assault by threat”. The base level for this is a Class C misdemeanor and fine up to $500. An assault conviction on their criminal record can make it significantly harder to get a job, can cause them to be passed over for promotions, and can make it difficult if not impossible to obtain certain types of professional licenses. In addition, criminal background checks are playing an ever-increasing role in credit and lease applications.
This is Peace Bond territory as well.
No matter which type of order you seek when in an abusive situation, it’s best practice to have a personal safety plan in place. The Texas Advocacy Project has numerous resources on how to stay safe while trying to escape an abusive relationship.
800-374-HOPE – HOPE Line for Legal Help via Texas Advocacy Project
1-800-799-SAFE 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-460-7233 Hope Alliance/Williamson County Crisis Center