Ask the County Law Librarian — Civil harassment restraining order mediation
Q. I have a big problem with my ex’s new girlfriend. She puts up pictures of MY baby on her Facebook page, trying to pretend like he is her’s, saying stuff like “Ain’t he just like his daddy?” She picks him up from daycare when my ex is supposed to do it–the list goes on. How can I keep her away from my baby? Can I get a restraining order against her?
A. If you are worried about your safety because you are being stalked, harassed, sexually assaulted, or threatened by someone you do not have a family or past or present romantic relationship with, you may seek protection by filing a request for a civil harassment restraining order. The procedure for requesting a civil harassment restraining order is similar to the procedure used to obtain a domestic violence restraining order. The Sacramento County Public Law Library has Step-by-Step Guides to both procedures, complete with sample forms and instructions, on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/protection-topic.aspx#research.
You may also be interested in attending one of our new Family Law Pilot Project workshops on how to obtain a civil harassment restraining order. For a $10 Materials Fee, you will learn how to fill out the necessary forms, including, if eligible, a Request to Waive Court Fees, and leave the workshop with complete forms and written instructions, including information on what to do next. You can register for the Civil Harassment Restraining Order workshop on our Eventbrite site at http://saclaw.eventbrite.com.
You should be prepared to spend at least a half a day at the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse on the day of your hearing on your request for a civil harassment restraining order. During the hearing, it is your burden to prove to the court by “clear and convincing evidence” the violence, threats, stalking, or harassment you claim. Clear and convincing is a higher standard than "preponderance of the evidence," the standard typical in most civil cases, but not as high as "beyond a reasonable doubt," the burden placed on the prosecution in criminal cases. For that reason, the Sacramento County Superior Court grants very few civil harassment restraining orders. In most cases, the judge will refer you and the other party to mediation.
If the judge refers you to mediation, you and the other party will meet with a mediator almost immediately, who will explain that mediation is both voluntary and confidential, and does not jeopardize either party’s ability to have a hearing—at any point either one of you can say mediation is not working for you and you would like to request a hearing. In that case both parties will return to the courtroom and wait until the judge is ready to hear your case.
The mediator does not make judgments and typically does not even look at the parties’ evidence. Rather, the mediation process focuses on what the parties can agree to do to make life peaceful in the future. The goal of mediation is to reach an agreement, which can include a restraining order. The mediated agreement is an enforceable stipulated judgment; the civil harassment restraining order case is dismissed. If either party violates the terms of the stipulated judgment, the other party can re-file the civil harassment restraining order case.
The benefit of mediation in a civil harassment restraining order case is that the person who wanted the restraining order can walk away from court that day with some sort of resolution in place, as opposed to often walking away with nothing.The judge can only grant or deny a request for a civil harassment restraining order; because of the high “clear and convincing” standard of proof, very few civil harassment restraining orders are granted. Also, because the mediated agreement can be tailored to meet both parties’ needs, there is a higher likelihood of follow through on both sides.
Of course, you could skip court altogether and go straight to mediation. The Sacramento Mediation Center, the same organization that conducts mediation in civil harassment restraining order cases at the Family Relations Court, charges fees on a sliding scale according to income.
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