Your Safety: Restraining Orders

Can I get a restraining order against my ex?

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Your separation may have been the result of domestic violence, or your spouse's behaviour may have become violent since the separation.  It is not unusual for a spouse to feel they are in danger leading up to or following a separation.  If you do not feel safe, you may want to apply for a restraining order against your former spouse.  This post, by our intern, Xinya Wang, reviews what restraining orders are and some of the process around them.

What is a restraining order?

If you are afraid that your former spouse will hurt you or your children, you can request the court to issue a restraining order. A restraining order is a court order that limits what an individual can do. For example, it can limit where an individual can go and/or who they can contact or communicate with. The content and conditions of a restraining order can vary, depending on what your situation requires.

A judge can issue a restraining order even if the individual was never charged, if a charge had yet to be dealt with, or if they were not found guilty. If someone violates the condition(s) of a restraining order, the police can arrest him or her without a warrant. Although restraining orders are issued in family court, violating a restraining order constitutes a criminal offence.

Who can apply for a restraining order?

Although it is not necessary that you have children with the individual you are seeking a restraining order against, you must have at least lived with or been married to him or her to apply for a restraining order in family court. In other words, you cannot apply for a restraining order against someone you dated but did not live with.

How long will an application for a restraining order take? What if my situation is urgent?

Under the normal process, it will be at least a few weeks to a couple months from when you file the application to initiate the court process to when you first see a judge. However, if your situation is urgent, you may be able to bring a motion to get a restraining order immediately. 

Learn more: Urgent and Emergency Motions

Can I apply for a restraining order without notice to the other party?

It depends on the situation.  You will be able to do so when, for example:

  • You don’t know where the other party is located;
  • There is an immediate risk that your children will be taken out of Ontario;
  • There is an immediate risk of harm to you or your children; or
  • Providing notice in advance would have serious consequences.

A motion without notice means that the other party will not know that you are applying to the court for a restraining order. They will not be in court to present their side of the story. Therefore, even if a temporary restraining order is granted without notice, at some point, you and the other party will need to return to court so that the other party will have an opportunity to tell their side of the story.  They will also be notified about the restraining order if one is granted.

What should I do after I am granted the restraining order?

Always keep a certified copy of the restraining order with you—the police cannot enforce the order unless they see a copy. In addition, you should give a copy of the restraining order to whoever else might need and/or use it. For example, if the restraining order prevents the individual from contacting your child, it would be a good idea to give a copy to your child’s teacher or daycare.

Safety Planning

Restraining orders are meant to prevent contact, but cannot guarantee the individual won’t break the law. Even with a restraining order, it is important that you develop a safety plan and take necessary precautions.  

You should always have a safety plan if you believe you may be in danger.  There are resources available online: