Situations in which one parent is trying to protect the children from their other parent are some of the most complicated situations we deal with in family law. One of the common questions we get from parents in those situations is whether they should file a protection order or a motion to restrict parenting time. Both of those options are designed to result in fairly immediate protection for the children, and both are also designed to result in a hearing in front of a judge quickly in order to give the restrained party a chance to defend himself or herself.
Generally speaking, if a parent is trying to protect the children, the better way to do that is with a motion to restrict parenting time, not a protection order. Courts are generally reluctant to use protection orders to prevent parents from having contact with their own children because the restrained parent has very little ability to modify or remove the protection order once it is made permanent and is not even allowed to ask that it be modified or lifted until two years after the protection is entered.
A motion to restrict parenting time can provide many of the same protections as a civil protection order, but it is more flexible and easier to modify to allow supervised parenting time, therapeutic parenting time, and even unsupervised parenting time if a court finds that would be in the best interests of the child.
Although there are some situations in which it may never be safe for a particular parent to have parenting time with a child, in most cases, a court will find it is in the child’s best interests to have at least some parenting time with their other parent. Also, in many cases a restrained parent may improve their ability to parent the children safely by completing parenting classes or anger management classes, working in therapy, or participating in some sort of rehabilitation to address substance abuse problems. In those circumstances, it may be appropriate to modify the restricted parenting time to start allowing more contact with the children. If parenting time was originally limited by a motion to restrict, those sorts of modifications can be accomplished if the court finds it to be in the children’s best interests. If the parenting time was limited by a protection order, however, the restrained parent would not even be able to ask for a modification until two years have passed.
Every family is different, and every situation has its own complexities. If you need advice regarding how to get protection for your own children, we strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney to find out what your rights and options are.