How Restraining Orders Affect Custody & Co-Parenting

Restraining orders make child custody especially complicated.

If you have a restraining order against the other parent, you may have to figure out how to share parenting duties from afar.

If your child has a restraining order against their other parent, you will likely act as the sole custodian for now, but that parent may be able to regain custody in the future.

Restraining orders can stop someone from doing many things, but in this article, we're focused on ones that limit interaction with a child or a former partner. No-contact orders and protective orders are similar, so we've use those terms too.

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How do restraining orders affect custody?

If you're seeking custody

Having a restraining order against you does not look good if you're trying to get custody of your child.

When you've abused the other parent or any child, the court presumes it would be best for your child that you did not get custody. To convince the court otherwise, you might:

As evidence that you've changed after committing domestic violence, you might present receipts from therapy sessions, results from regular drug or alcohol testing, etc.

If there's an active no-contact order between you and your child, it may make custody impossible for you right now. Follow the order so you might be able to get custody rights in the future.

If you already have custody

If your co-parent files for a restraining order against you to protect themself (and not to protect your child), then custody should not be affected.

But if they get a restraining order for the child, they can usually ask for temporary custody at the same time. A later hearing could decide if the custody change should be permanent.

If a temporary or final protective order contradicts an existing custody order, the protective order usually takes precedence. You may need the court to modify your custody order to resolve the conflict.

Remember that a court order giving you custody will not necessarily last forever. If your child needs protection, the court can change custody accordingly. In certain extreme situations, it could even terminate your parental rights.

How to co-parent with a restraining order

Co-parenting with a no-contact order or restraining order may sound impossible, but it can work in some cases. You will probably use a less-collaborative approach called parallel parenting that suits your high conflict situation.

Some people use parallel parenting (or otherwise limit their communication) even though neither parent has a no-contact order against the other. It may be the only way for your child to have a relationship with two happy parents.

If you have a restraining or no-contact order, follow its rules. It probably outlines how you can continue to parent together. If it blocks parenting together, the unrestrained parent may need to ask the court for sole custody.

Remember that the parent who has a protective order against them is responsible for following the rules — not the other parent. Even if the unrestrained parent wants to ignore part of the protective order, the restrained parent should not take that risk.

No-contact co-parenting

To parent without directly contacting each other, you might:

  • Attend your child's events at different times, or attend different ones.
  • Communicate through a third party, such as a lawyer or parenting coordinator (but not through your child).
  • Message through a co-parenting app that has a hostility monitor (if this is allowed).
  • Ask the court to keep your contact information private.

No-contact child custody exchanges

To exchange your child without interacting with the other parent, you might:

  • Have a trusted person transport the child.
  • Have a trusted person supervise exchanges, or use an exchange center. Each parent can arrive at a different time.
  • Schedule exchanges during school hours so that one parent drops the child off and the other picks up.
  • Use a ride-share service for children.
  • Let a mature child transport themself between homes.
  • Wait in your respective cars during exchanges (as long as you stay far enough apart to comply with the no-contact order).

Choosing a custody schedule with infrequent exchanges will make all this easier.

You can also put rules about exchanges in your parenting plan.

Getting a restraining order against a parent

Getting a restraining or protective order for your child can be a quick process. Act as soon as possible to get your child out of harm's way.

The basic steps are:

  1. Talk to a lawyer or legal aid service.
  2. File the paperwork. It's usually free. Put yourself (not the child) as the plaintiff or petitioner.
  3. Present evidence at a hearing, which the other parent will likely not attend. If you get a restraining order here, it will be temporary.
  4. Present evidence at a follow-up hearing, which the other parent can attend and speak at. You may get a final restraining order here.

Final restraining orders usually last up to a few years, at which point you can ask a judge to extend them.

Your child may be able to file on their own, depending on your location. Often they have to be at least 16.

Keep in mind that there may be other options for keeping your child safe. You can ask the court to approve a parenting plan that requires supervised visitation or prohibits overnight stays. That way your child would still have contact with their other parent — but safely.

Making a strong parenting plan to limit conflict

A comprehensive parenting plan and parenting time schedule are musts for high-conflict custody cases. But creating them on your own can feel overwhelming.

The Custody X Change online app walks you through each step of creating a parenting plan. It suggests detailed rules to protect you and your child. For instance, you might limit how the other parent can contact you.

With Custody X Change, you can easily build a parenting time schedule from templates or from scratch.

Additionally, the many co-parenting features — the messaging center, parenting journal, expense tracker and more — help you stay organized and document everything you need for any potential returns to court.

Custody X Change is the easiest, most reliable way to limit conflict while co-parenting.

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Long distance schedules

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Factors to consider

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