I agree that the situation your ex has been creating with grilling the children for information is not right and keeping them from you is not legally correct.
My stepsons tell my husband that they do not want to go to their mother’s but yet they tell their mother that they do not want to come visit us…They love both their parents and feel that each one wants to hear that they are the better parent and the children love them more. I’m not suggesting that your children do not want to stay with you, I’m only relating my situation and how I understand the things that children say.
I will tell you this from situations that I know…a lot of couples do not have “custody” papers. One parent leaves and the other essentially has custody because that’s who the children stay with. It’s by agreement between the parents regardless of whether or not that agreement is spoken.
If you had no custody order in effect and allowed your children to stay with your ex then essentially you gave custody over to him. If you take the children for a weekend and do not return them then I believe that you would be the onethat the courts will see as not following custody.
Getting a restraining order is going to make the situation worse if there is no history of domestic violence. It sounds as though he is a very forceful person but unless there is a history the restraining order may be questioned when your pending custody case comes before a judge. From what I understand and have read, a restraining order will not keep him away from the children, only from you. He would still have visitation rights, as you do now, unless those are taken away by the courts or given up by the parent. If there is a history of domestic violence and child abuse then you should file for emergency custody on those grounds. That would be the only way to keep him from the children.