Are Restraining Orders Standard for a Divorce?

By Heather Frances J.D.

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A restraining order prevents a person from taking a certain action, and two types of restraining orders are common in the context of divorce: automatic restraining orders and domestic violence restraining orders. Though laws regarding this issue differ between states, an automatic restraining order typically keeps spouses from actions like selling property or moving the children, whereas a domestic violence restraining order keeps spouses away from each other.

Automatic Restraining Order

In some states, spouses are automatically restrained from taking specified actions after they file for divorce; these automatic orders are effective immediately when a spouse files the divorce papers and serves them on the other spouse. Such orders are standard in states that have them, though not all states do. An automatic restraining order applies equally to both spouses, regardless of which spouse filed the divorce paperwork.


The contents of an automatic restraining order vary between states, and the spouses’ conduct is governed by the specific language in the order. Orders may contain terms that address whether spouses can sell property, put liens against property, change life insurance beneficiaries or withdraw money from bank accounts. Some orders address procedures for taking a child out of state before the divorce is final, and one spouse may have to get written permission from the other to leave the state with the couple’s children. These orders generally expire once a couple’s divorce is final.

Changing an Automatic Restraining Order

An automatic restraining order may not fit every situation. Some states, like California and Massachusetts, have automatic restraining orders, but permit the court to modify them at any time before the divorce is final. For example, if an automatic restraining order prohibits a spouse from leaving the state with the children without written permission from the other spouse, the court could modify that order to allow the child to leave the state in a situation where one spouse could not be located to give written approval.

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

Typically, domestic violence restraining orders are separate from the divorce proceedings, and a spouse or partner can get a domestic violence restraining order whether or not she filed for divorce. Such orders might be necessary when one spouse has physically harmed the other spouse or child or has threatened to harm them. State laws vary, but courts often customize domestic violence restraining orders to meet each situation, including such terms as a distance the restrained spouse must maintain from the protected spouse.