A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a formal legal order issued by a judge that forces or prevents an action for a specified time frame. In family law, they are enacted to prevent future problems by prohibiting one person from approaching another. In Hawaii, these types of restraining orders can be issued by Family Court or District Court.

Family Court TROs can be issued to family or household members such as spouses, former spouses, unmarried parents, cohabitants, those in a dating relationship, and even for household pets. They usually focus on prohibiting one household member from harming another through physical, psychological, financial, verbal, or emotional abuse, or malicious property damage. For TROs involving children, a judge can order a social worker from the Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare branch to evaluate possible threats to the children from another family or household member.

District Court restraining orders are for those who do not fall under Family Court relationship categories – such as neighbors and co-workers – and provide protection from harassment as well as physical harm.

In both cases, a judge reviews the TRO request without the parties present and, if there is sufficient concern about the threat of harm, then the judge will issue the TRO to keep the related individuals apart immediately and set a hearing within two weeks to evaluate facts and determine if further protections should be ordered for a longer period of time or if the TRO should be dissolved. The judge can issue an Order for Protection for months or even years if they deem it appropriate. In both types of TROs, responding parties are required to turn in any firearms subject to return after the TRO is resolved or expired.

Spouses who are going through a divorce may seek a Family Court TRO separate from the divorce or even ask for similar relief as part of their divorce case. Filing a TRO and the accompanying Ex Parte Petition for a Protective Order is a simple process that can be done without a lawyer at the Family Court facility in Kapolei or the Circuit Court building on Punchbowl Street.

If approved, a judge can issue the TRO as early as the same day. The court will schedule a hearing within two weeks of the date of filing. At the hearing, the person requesting the order for protection must demonstrate to the court that there concerns of harm or threat of harm are genuine, and that there is a likelihood of it happening in the future.