Can I, and should I, file a restraining order or no-contact order against my parents?
September 7, 2012 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Can I, and should I, file a restraining order or no-contact order against my parents?

You are probably not a lawyer, but I'd still like your thoughts.

About a year ago, I had a huge argument with my mother, and I am currently not speaking with her. I offered my father a chance to remain in contact and he sided with my mother, so I am not in contact with him either. I am an adult in my early 30s, and I am married and financially self-sufficient.

I don't want to go into too many details, but suffice it to say that my parents hate my wife, and they've always hated me -- no matter how successful I've been in life or how happy I am, they are always taking issue with something. Things got very much worse in my dealings with my parents once I got married.

Shortly after this particular incident, we changed our phone numbers (with the exception of my work number which I cannot change) so that the harrassing phone calls would end. (Thankfully I have not received any calls at work.) I set up junk mail filters on all my personal and work e-mail accounts so that any e-mail from my mother ends up directly in the trash. My dad is smarter and does not attempt to contact me, so I've not had to set up such filters for him.

Any postal mail that comes to my house from my mother, I immediately write "REFUSED" on it and leave it in the mailbox to be picked up by our mail carrier.

Through quirks of GMail and Outlook, I still see the subject line and some text in mail from my mother before it gets deleted. It causes me emotional distress every time I see one of these.

I've done some research on protective orders and peace orders and they seem to be much more geared toward abuse and domestic violence situations. Is there any kind of court order I can file so that my mother will stop trying to contact me? How does it work? In what state or local court should I file? (I live in Maryland and my parents live in New York State.)
posted by tckma to Law & Government (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL(Y) and IANYL. That said, I doubt it (at least, without further developments). Restraining orders are typically not issued to prevent feather-ruffling. Are you prepared to sue your parents? It sounds to me like you'd at least need to be able to make a case under an anti-stalking law, or similar privacy related . You mentioned emotional distress, but there will be issues with making that out. A lawyer from your state can give you a better answer on whether your parent's conduct will support a restraining order.

Sorry if this is a bit confused, I'm sleep deprived and have a flu. Probably, you'll get a clearer answer shortly (and one tempered by experience rather than extracted from books/lecture.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:37 AM on September 7, 2012

Is there any kind of court order I can file so that my mother will stop trying to contact me? How does it work? In what state or local court should I file?

Sorry. You're not asking for "thoughts". You're asking for legal advice. Please see a lawyer.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:37 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

IANAL, TINLA: one thing you gotta know about the court system: there is a difference between things which are bad/wrong/uncomfortable/distressing and things which are ILLEGAL. There is some overlap, of course, but there is not ALWAYS overlap. Restraining orders, protective orders, etc. deal explicitly with behavior of the criminal/illegal type. While you could certainly try that route, I suspect that in most jurisdictions (which are often overburdened and understaffed), you will not get much love.

The only thing I can think of which might be slightly more successful is suing your parents for intentionally afflicting emotional distress - but, as others have mentioned, that's for a lawyer to decide.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2012

I should echo JB's admonition: the above is only meant to illustrate that these kinds of orders don't exist in a vacuum. Beyond that, you need individualized advice on your facts.

What about a technical fix? Forward your email, post anti-Mom filter, to another inbox, and set ReplyTo to your "frontline" account. Then check the second inbox. By the time you log on to the first accounts webmail to check the spam folder periodically, Mom's stuff will be deleted.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:42 AM on September 7, 2012

Best answer: It sounds like the Gmail solution you've already worked up is sub-par because you're seeing the subject lines regardless. A quick thought on that from a non-lawyer but one-degree removed perspective is that I'd either

A) fix that such that you don't see those emails at all anymore, there has to be a way to do what you're wanting it to do because Gmail = awesome or
B) if you have the willpower to not look or be hurt by them I'd filter those emails not to the trash but into a folder that you keep for a lawyer to look at and consider as evidence. Maybe even forward them to another inbox that you don't have the password to (maybe a friend could vouchsafe this password until a lawyer comes into the picture?) and then delete them from your inbox... I'd think a filter could do this.

Good luck, this sounds like the opposite of fun.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

You need a lawyer to to tell you whether it's possible.

As to whether you should, I would start by fixing whatever quirks of GMail and Outlook mean that you see email before it's diverted. This should be simple. And if you think you might end up needing a lawyer, stop diverting it to Trash. Save it somewhere you won't see it. It's evidence.
posted by caek at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2012

Ha, great minds and all that snuffleupagus. That's a good solution to the A) portion that I listed.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:46 AM on September 7, 2012

The point about archiving the emails somewhere he won't see them vs. deletion is a good one, if OP thinks that evidence might be needed eventually.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:49 AM on September 7, 2012

Best answer: Do not involve the courts. Set up a Gmail filter. On the Gmail web site, not in Outlook.

Create a filter on the Gmail web site which sends all such emails to Trash instead of to Spam. No need to check Trash unless you are in the habit of throwing away things you don't mean to throw away. The filters you create in Outlook are only executed after Outlook downloads all your email. The filters you set up on the Gmail website are run as soon as the message is received by Gmail, and so you will never see the emails or their subject lines before the filter happens.
posted by pmb at 8:51 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want to file them, but never know they are there unless you specifically look for them, then you can assign them to a label, or forward them to some alternate email address. But again, if you don't want to have to read the subject lines, then you have to set up your filters on the server (and do so via the web, if you are using Gmail - click the gear picture, and then click settings, and then click filters, and then click "Create a new filter"), rather than in Outlook.

The basic explanation is that Outlook filters are only run once the email is downloaded - so you see them flash briefly into your inbox before Outlook files them. Gmail filters are run whenever new mail is received by Google's servers, rather than when it is received by you. You want a filter in Gmail, not in Outlook. Use the web site and not the courts.
posted by pmb at 8:57 AM on September 7, 2012

Response by poster: Clarification: My personal e-mail accounts are both on GMail, and my work e-mail is through Outlook. I'm not using Outlook to read my GMail.

On GMail I have a filter that sends the e-mail immediately to the spam folder. I could conceivably change it to trash or an archive folder.

On Outlook I have a filter that sends it to Junk Mail, but often, legitimate e-mail ends up in that Junk Mail folder, so I can't say "yes, delete everything in Junk Mail without a second thought."
posted by tckma at 8:59 AM on September 7, 2012

Outlook on Exchange?
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:03 AM on September 7, 2012

IANAL. But even if you have a restraining order, it does not make it physically impossible for your mother to contact you. If she does, you can have her arrested/fined (not sure on the specifics). So for example, if she is on your property, you can call the police to have her physically removed. But if she's not taking the hint that you don't want to talk to her, I don't know if she'd necessarily follow a restraining order either. And then you'd need to deal with the police (in addition to dealing with the court) and this just seems like a bad idea when it comes to family if they're not physically harming you (no matter how much you dislike them).
posted by ethidda at 9:05 AM on September 7, 2012

Because Exchange can have server-side rules too, as well as other potentially useful features. It's been years since I've admined one, though. And you may not want to involve whoever has control over Exchange and/or ActiveDirectory....
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:05 AM on September 7, 2012

Best answer: I have a filter that sends it to Junk Mail, but often, legitimate e-mail ends up in that Junk Mail folder, so I can't say "yes, delete everything in Junk Mail without a second thought."

So put it in another folder that you can delete without a second thought, or just ignore.
posted by grouse at 9:20 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: IANAL by any stretch, but I have been in a situation where there was a restraining order put on another person on my behalf. I can tell you two things:
1. the process of getting a restraining order is incredibly stressful, and necessarily involves coming face-to-face with the person you want most in the world to be kept safe from, even if they're just in the same courtroom (and the other person may derive considerable pleasure from witnessing your discomfort).

2. restraining orders don't work.
posted by headnsouth at 9:27 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Outlook 2007. I'm assuming it's "on Exchange" as occasionally it complains about "cannot contact the Exchange server" and until that's fixed I can't get e-mail... but how would I tell?

I find a lot of times my filters on Outlook just plain don't work.
posted by tckma at 9:35 AM on September 7, 2012

I can block specific email addresses on my Yahoo mail. Surely GMail can do that?
posted by jgirl at 9:36 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I mean so that they just don't arrive in the first place.
posted by jgirl at 9:37 AM on September 7, 2012

Best answer: I do this all the time with Gmail. Here's what your filter should look like in settings.

You can report harassment, no matter who it's from. But honestly? It's a lot easier not to.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:43 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assuming the info in your profile is correct, here is the Maryland Protective Order FAQ.

I am not a lawyer, but a quick read of the brochure linked on that page [PDF] indicates that, because you are a blood relation, you would need to file a protective order. The brochure describes the types of offenses that are covered by protective orders and those that are covered only by peace orders.
posted by catlet at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2012

I'm assuming it's "on Exchange" as occasionally it complains about "cannot contact the Exchange server"

When you go to "Rules" to set up your filter, is one of your accounts under "Exchange Server"? If so, you want to set up the rules for that account. Those filters should be on the server side and take place before your computer syncs.
posted by bluefly at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2012

Best answer: I have relatives involved in harassment suits against each other right now, with trespassing orders etc. I've found that any contact with some of them goes badly and silence is the only path.

Your father has stopped contacting you, your mother is still contacting you despite your very clear boundary setting and no-response - my guess is that getting a harassment order will seem like a "win" to her in that she managed to provoke a reaction from you, and can now talk to/upset you through your lawyer or otherwise use this change to justify harassing you even more.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a lawyer, but I am not licensed in Maryland or New York so I cannot give you legal advice for your situation. If you are seeking legal advice (eg, "In what state or local court should I file?") then you need to consult a licensed professional in your jurisdiction.

Others in this thread have given you legal advice. The ethical rules for attorneys in regard to Internet forums like AskMetaFilter are basically unanimous (albeit not always clear) that attorneys can provide legal information but not advice. It's tricky for me to comment on someone else's legal advice, because then my comment is basically "advice" also, but I think I can safely tell you that after reading the advice that appears in this thread, I'm inclined to reiterate that you should speak to a professional who is licensed in your jurisdiction.

That's one thing I wanted to tell you. The other is in response to the notion that "restraining orders don't work." I have considerable experience with restraining orders, and I totally understand the skepticism about them, and I cannot deny that in some cases they do not help and sometimes even exacerbate the situation. However, those cases are the well-publicized exception to the rule. In many, many, many cases, restraining orders do work. I have seen them work. I have used them successfully, not just to calm situations but to actually resolve/end them. Restraining orders are a useful tool.

That is not to say that you should use one. An attorney who is licensed in your jurisdiction would be able to better advise you whether your jurisdiction uses any sort of judicial order, or provides some other legal remedy, applicable to cases where a person has a "huge argument" with his/her parents and doesn't wish to hear from them anymore.

I am sorry your family dynamic has become hurtful. It is sad that a person in his thirties would come to feel that his parents have "always hated" him. I hope your situation gets better, with or without your parents, and I wish you good luck in that regard.
posted by cribcage at 10:00 AM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Make the rule outlook rule to forward stuff from her to a gmail address just for stuff from her. My mother varies her addresses so I have to keep editing the filter which sucks.

Check the email with her stuff once every couple months or so. It sucks but it's good to have an idea if she's escalating, if a family member died, thngs like that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:05 AM on September 7, 2012

Right now, you have a problem which can be solved via a technical fix.

If you change the situation, your mother may respond by getting creative. (Postcards! Intercession via innocent acquaintances! Personal ads! Sky-writing planes! Her own metafilter account!)

I say fix technically, and do not escalate.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why don't you pay a lawyer to write your mother a letter stating that you don't want any contact with her in any form.

Also have her emails forwarded to another gmail account and set up an out-of-office reply that says that mail from this person is not accepted and will be automatically deleted.
posted by shoesietart at 11:42 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

With a similar problem, I set my gmail to "skip inbox", "forward to crappyparent@gmail", and "delete" all emails from my problem parent, using the Filter feature. Skipping the inbox is key- no crappy moments from glimpsing the first sentence!

I forward them to a this-only email Just In Case there's a legal need for them later. No need to ever check it. I visit Trash way less often than Spam. Plus, I cover the mail screen with my hand when I go into Trash to delete all. Feels silly, but no mean words hit my eyes!

Sorry you're experiencing Crappy Parent.
posted by BigJen at 12:11 PM on September 7, 2012

Coming back to recommend, in addition to dumping emails before you even see them, that you toss postal mail into the bin/shredder as soon as it comes in as well. Every time you write "REFUSED" on a piece of mail, your mother gets it back and sees that it reached you and you spent time and effort to respond. Do whatever you want with it, but don't let her know you're expending even a little bit of your energy on it (her).
posted by headnsouth at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you ever actually asked your mother and father not to contact you anymore? I understand you implemented a no contact policy some time ago but did you inform them of that and ask them not to contact you anymore? Actually having made this request is something normally required before protective orders are issued, otherwise the person is not expected by the courts to know that the contact is unwelcome. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2012

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