DivorceWhat’s The Difference Between A No-Contact Order, A Restraining Order, A No-Contact Agreement, And A Civil Order Of Protection?

September 24, 20190

This is a great question! There is a lot of confusion surrounding these terms, because the terms are used interchangeably all the time, when in fact, one term may be describing something else altogether.

Let’s start with the example you raised of a “no-contact order.” The South Dakota statutes (the list and definitions of our state’s laws) do not use this phrase, and yet lawyers use it all the time. Generally, when we talk about a no-contact order, we mean an order issued after a person is charged with a crime and ordered to stay away from the victim (and the victim’s family, friends, home, and/or place of work).  The judge can issue this No-Contact Order without first receiving a written request from someone, and can craft any terms the judge thinks appropriate for the safety of the victim.

Next, you asked about a “No-contact agreement when filing for divorce.”  In South Dakota, when you file for divorce, the clerk that takes your paperwork will issue an “Automatic temporary restraining order upon service.” This means that once you’ve filed your divorce paperwork, and once your spouse is served with that paperwork, a temporary restraining order (TRO) is in effect until the divorce is completed or dismissed.  This TRO includes property restraints, “disturbing the peace,” insurance maintenance, and a bar against removing minor children from the state without written consent or an order of the Court – and can include additional restrictions if requested by either party.

You also mention “a restraining order” (RO) and “a civil order of protection”. These phrases are textbook examples of the confusion surrounding these terms.  An RO is also called an injunction, meaning it stops or suspends something from happening until a court can make a ruling on the issue.  Let’s use an example of your beautiful oak tree that has grown over onto your neighbor’s property. The neighbor says he is going to chop down your tree because the tree is damaging his garage. You don’t want the tree chopped down. You can file for an RO so a court can make a ruling on your right to your tree versus your neighbor’s right to not have damage to his garage. (The term “civil order of protection” is not used in the South Dakota statutes, so I am assuming you are using it interchangeably with “restraining order.”)

Now here’s the important part: in all of the above examples, if your restraining order, no-contact order, or injunction is violated, you must file another pleading with the court to enforce it.  This is called a Motion for Order to Show Cause, and can take weeks or even months to get a hearing.

But there is one type of restraining order that is quickly enforceable by law enforcement, and that is called an Order of Protection (OP). South Dakota statutes contain provisions for OP’s, but OP’s are also part of and enforceable under federal law, as part of the Violence Against Women Act. An OP restrains (stops) someone in an intimate relationship from abusing his or her intimate partner. It also protects victims of stalking, sexual assault, and other certain types of physical injury. Unlike the above types of restraining orders, an OP can be enforced immediately and on-site by police.  This is a huge advantage in the quest to keep safe victims of domestic violence. I’ve heard it said that an OP is “only a piece of paper” – but it’s a very powerful piece of paper.  For instance, a person who has an OP entered against him or her is entered into the NCIC – the National Crime Information Center – and also may have certain firearm restrictions.  So again, this was a great question!  I hope this general information — which does not address any specific legal issue — isn’t too confusing.  If you have questions relating to a specific legal matter, please seek guidance from a lawyer or legal agency.  If you need help with a domestic violence situation or with a civil matter that might require an injunction, please contact ERLS.

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