Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: The PROCESS

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: The Process

A Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) can help protect you and your family while escaping from domestic violence. If you want to know more about what a DVRO is, and how to decide if it’s right for you, read this article first.

If you’ve decided a DVRO is right for you, it’s important to know the process and complete each of the following steps accurately and on time:

  • Fill out a DVRO packet – a package of several state and county forms – including custody and visitation forms if you and your abuser share children in common.
  • File your completed DVRO with your local family court.
  • Receive your temporary judge’s orders from the clerk, along with a date for your DVRO hearing. You must attend your hearing or your DVRO will be dismissed.
  • Have your DVRO served on the respondent (your abuser). Neither you nor anyone else listed as a protected person on the order can serve the respondent. You can ask local law enforcement to serve (a free service from the Sacramento County Sheriff), hire a process server, or, if you feel sure it will be safe, have someone known to the respondent serve the paperwork. Service must be done in person.
  • Complete the proof of service form, have your server sign it, and file it with the court. Also bring a copy of your proof of service to your hearing. If the court doesn’t have your proof of service, the case will be continued (delayed) or, occasionally, dismissed.
  • The respondent has the opportunity to submit a formal response to the court. You must be served with this response, but service can be done by mail. You may not receive and be able to view the response before your hearing. If not, you may ask for a copy and the time to review it during your hearing.
  • Attend your hearing. If you have children in common, the judge will make orders regarding your DVRO and most likely send you to mediation to discuss child custody and visitation.
  • Attend your mediation session, where you will speak to a mediator about child custody and visitation planning. Before the session you must complete a parenting plan questionnaire and (in Sacramento) an online mediation orientation course. (Check with your local court for requirements where you are.)
  • Return to court for a final hearing, where the judge will consider the mediator’s recommendation on custody and visitation, as well as any further information or evidence you wish to share regarding your DVRO. Then the judge will make a final determination about both your DVRO and custody/visitation. If you do not have children in common, your case will most likely be completed during your initial hearing, with no need for mediation.

The following links offer a more detailed explanation of each step in the DVRO process:

The process of filing a DVRO can be challenging. If you’ve been through domestic violence, you may already feel vulnerable and afraid. It can feel daunting to face each step and confusing to know what is expected of you. The support of a legal advocate can help you navigate this difficult process.

ACFP advocates are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice.

ACFP does offer comprehensive legal advocacy services to help you move through each stage of the DVRO process. Additionally, our counselors can help you make a safety plan to help protect you and your family during the DVRO process. Our advocates can:

  • Assist you with filling out your DVRO paperwork.
  • Give you instructions for filing and serving your DVRO.
  • Review your orders and help you prepare for your court hearing.
  • Accompany you to court as a support person.
  • Help you prepare for child custody/visitation mediation.
  • Offer court preparation for your post-mediation hearing.
  • Help with safety planning, relocation, domestic violence peer counseling, or other issues related to your history of abuse. You can also attend group peer counseling and parenting classes, and bring your children to “For Kids’ Sake”, our trauma-informed, therapeutic “play care”, to help you and your children heal and recover from your experiences.


“Lisa” came to ACFP after fleeing domestic abuse by her husband. Lisa was shocked and traumatized by her husband’s behavior. She also learned that he had a history of abuse in a previous marriage, including child abuse.

It took some time for Lisa to feel ready to file a DVRO, but the realization that her husband had a history of documented child abuse in his previous marriage made her see that she and her children needed protection.

Our advocates helped her prepare a DVRO for herself and her two children. They instructed her how to file and serve the orders. Our advocates helped Lisa clarify what she wanted from the court, and helped her prepare for her hearing. An advocate accompanied Lisa to court as a support person and stayed with her throughout the hearing.

Lisa’s first hearing was a disappointment and she was terrified and upset afterward. She felt the judge didn’t understand that her children were in danger. Her husband had a lawyer, and Lisa felt he misrepresented their relationship and minimized his behavior. He led the judge to think this was just an argument between a couple and not a case of true domestic violence. The judge sent them to mediation to make a parenting plan, and granted visitation to the father until the final hearing.

ACFP advocates helped Lisa to understand her obligations and rights under the court order. They helped her make a safety plan for the visitation times, and helped her strategize custody exchanges and how to avoid contact with her husband, who was trying to persuade her to come home.

They then worked with Lisa to prepare a parenting plan, complete an online mediation orientation and gather new evidence to support her claims. She was able to show the mediator enough new information that the mediator recommended full custody to Lisa, with only short, supervised visits to the father.

At Lisa’s final hearing, the judge took this new evidence into consideration, and followed the mediator’s recommendations, granting full legal and physical custody and a three-year DVRO to Lisa. He also limited the father to short supervised visits only.

Lisa and her children have now left the area, and she has filed for a divorce. She and her children are receiving counseling to begin to heal from their experiences.

As a holistic, trauma-informed crisis center, ACFP can support clients through the legal, emotional, and logistical aspects of the DVRO process.

Written by Colette R., A Community For Peace – Legal Advocate  

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