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A child protective order is issued by a court to shield a child from contact with an abuser or other dangerous person. The child does not need to be the direct victim of abuse to qualify for protection.
A child protective order is a court order. The specifics of the law -- and even what the orders are called -- vary from state to state. By issuing the order, the court's intent is to regulate contact between parties who can no longer do so on their own.
Restraining or Protective Orders
Restraining or protective orders generally outline the rules of engagement between people having serious issues. Arising in either civil or criminal contexts, they describe the distance to be kept between the parties and what modes of communication -- if any -- are acceptable.
Critically, orders also detail the consequences for failing to follow instructions. Most often, the movements of only one person are being "restrained" and the order allows the other to seek punishment for noncompliance.
When to Seek a Child Protective Order
Most often, a protective order is sought in domestic violence situations, although there are certainly other circumstances where they apply. The order itself is just a piece of paper. It does not exactly safeguard victims.
But it is a piece of paper from the court. That means it carries behind it all the authority of the law. Violating a protective order creates serious legal consequences for the party who fails to follow it, like arrest.
You should seek a child protective order when a kid is endangered by contact to someone close, or when the rules of engagement need detailed outlining for the child's safety. Perhaps you are a victim of abuse or an ex is threatening you and the child's closeness to you creates vulnerability. Or perhaps you are in a difficult divorce and the other parent is using contact with the child to create drama that endangers the kid's mental or physical health.
Where and How to Seek a Child Protective Order
The court will not just issue an order on a whim. Violations create serious criminal consequences. Procedures vary from state to state but most often the party seeking an order will fill out a form outlining the reasons the order is sought, swear to it, and appear in court to testify as to the facts.
The other party will receive notice of a hearing and will also be able to attend and testify. Often, parties do have counsel -- sometimes a family law attorney, sometimes a criminal defense attorney (this will depend on the circumstances surrounding the protective order).
Speak to Counsel or to the Court Clerk's Office
Given that every state has different procedures, there is no general formula for seeking a child protective order that applies across the country. That said, you can be sure that whatever county in the country you find yourself in, the court clerk's office will know the proper procedure.
Most counties have some services available online. Many counties also provide self-help services in the courthouse. Clerks are there to help you and they often know better than almost anyone else how to get things done in court.