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What is a Temporary Restraining Order?

On Behalf of | Jan 12, 2023 | Divorce

Restraining orders restrain, or prohibit, a party in a family law case from taking a specific action or engaging in a certain behavior.  A temporary restraining order (“TRO”) restrains a party from engaging in specified conduct for a temporary period of time – usually 14 days – until the court can hold a proper hearing.  A judge considers a request for a TRO ex parte, meaning the judge hears the request without a formal hearing.  For Texas divorce and child custody matters, Family Code §§ 6.501 and 105.001 govern temporary restraining orders.

Who can request a temporary restraining order?

Only the parties to a suit for divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (“SAPCR”) can request a TRO.  That being the case, the orders in a TRO can only be enforced against the parties as well.  People who are not parties to the suit do not fall under the court’s order and cannot be held in contempt for violating the order.

In a suit for divorce, a TRO can protect the requesting party or preserve property for the 14 days immediately following service of divorce papers on the other side.  In a custody suit, a party can request a TRO to protect the child’s safety and welfare.  If you are married with children, your petition will combine the suit for divorce with the SAPCR, and your request for a TRO can include provisions to protect the party, preserve property, and protect the child’s safety and welfare.

How long does a temporary restraining order last?

In Texas, a TRO lasts 14 days. The court with jurisdiction over the TRO will hold a hearing 14 days after the judge signs the initial TRO. If a hearing cannot take place after 14 days, or if good cause exists, the petitioner can request a 14-day extension of the TRO. Or if the parties agree, a temporary restraining order can be extended until the court enters a final divorce decree.

How do I get a temporary restraining order?

When you or your attorney files the original petition for divorce, with or without a SAPCR, you may include the request for a temporary restraining order.  It is also possible to file the request for a TRO in a separate motion after you file the original petition.  Since the primary purpose of a temporary restraining order is to prohibit the other party from acting brashly when he or she learns you have filed for divorce, most often petitioners will include the request for a temporary restraining order with their original filing.

What are standing orders?

Many counties in Texas, especially the larger ones, have standing orders.  Standing orders contain the most frequently requested provisions in temporary restraining orders as authorized by the Texas Family Code.  Click the following links to see examples of the Collin County and Denton County standing orders.

The local rules in these counties will require you to attach a copy of their respective standing orders to the petition you file.  You will then serve a copy of those standing orders on the opposing party along with a copy of your petition.  Once the opposing party receives a copy of the petition and standing orders, the court can hold them in contempt for violating one of its provisions.

What can I ask for when I request a TRO?

If your county does not use standing orders, I recommend you include all the relevant provisions in the Collin or Denton County standing orders provided in the links above.  Those provisions are all authorized by §§ 6.501 and 105.001 of the Texas Family Code.  Once you have requested all the basic provisions, you should consider actions the other side would likely take that would cause an immediate emergency or irreparable harm if committed during the first 14 days that your divorce is pending.

Immediate Emergency

When considering whether to request a temporary restraining order, review the standing orders in your county and think of any immediate emergencies that the opposing party would likely cause, which are not addressed by the standing order.  For example:

  • Family Violence – If you have evidence to support a clear and convincing danger of family violence, you can request an ex parte protective order.  In situations where you have a reasonable concern for potential family violence but insufficient evidence to support a clear and present danger, you can request a temporary restraining order prohibiting the other party from engaging in acts of family violence.
  • Tracking or Stalking – If you have reason to believe the opposing party is tracking you with a GPS tracking device or secretly recording conversations, you can request a temporary restraining order prohibiting the opposing party from engaging in stalking or tracking activities.  (See Texas Penal Code § 16.06 Unlawful Installation of Tracking Device).

Irreparable Harm

A temporary restraining order can prohibit the opposing party from causing irreparable harm to their spouse or their business.  For example:

  • If you own a business that provides service to clients, a temporary restraining order can prohibit the other party from writing disparaging reviews or engaging in a smear campaign intended to ruin the opposing party’s business reputation.
  • If you have reason to believe your estranged spouse would contact your current employer to damage your reputation at work, you can request a temporary restraining order prohibiting such conduct.

Notice of temporary restraining order

Be sure to read the district courts’ local rules in your county before you file a request for a TRO.  The local rules may require you to give the other side, or their attorney, notice of your TRO request a couple hours before you officially present your request with the court.

Is there a hearing for a temporary restraining order?

The court will schedule a hearing about 14 days after the judge grants your request for a TRO.  You and the opposing party will have an opportunity to present evidence and argument to the court at the TRO hearing.  The judge will determine whether to turn the TRO into a temporary injunction, which will remain in effect until the judge signs a final divorce decree.  If you desire, you can combine the hearing on the temporary restraining order with a temporary orders hearing at which the parties can request orders on temporary child custody and support, exclusive possession of a residence, and temporary spousal maintenance.

What if my spouse violates the TRO?

The court can hold the person who violates the temporary restraining order in contempt. There are two types of contempt: civil and criminal. Civil contempt uses fine and jail time to compel behavior. For example, a court could hold a parent in jail until he or she pays court-ordered child support. Criminal contempt punishes past behavior. For example, if a party in a divorce hid money, made harassing phone calls, damaged property, or made disparaging remarks on social media, the court could issue a fine or jail sentence for each incident of contempt.

Filing for divorce in Texas?

Contact the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson to schedule your consultation today. Click the following links for additional information about the divorce and custody process in Texas.