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Domestic Violence Restraining Order FAQs

Domestic violence is often defined as a pattern of behavior in which a person acts abusively toward an intimate partner. However, domestic violence can happen in just one incident. The relationship between the victim of domestic violence and the abuser may also involve other family and household members. Domestic violence can take several forms. It may appear as physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and financial or economic abuse. Today, an offender may use technology to abuse the victim. Victims have several options when domestic violence occurs, including:

  • Asking the police for criminal charges against the abuser
  • Filing a lawsuit and seeking damages
  • Seeking a protection order (or restraining order)

Many victims promptly seek a protection order or restraining order to stop the violence. The order can also provide a separation of the parties. State laws vary on the elements of a domestic violence crime. They also vary in court standards for obtaining a protection order or restraining order in domestic violence cases. State law provisions normally provide actions for physical and sexual assault. However, the law may not provide a remedy for emotional abuse. Legal remedies for psychological and financial abuse may also be rare. Therefore, a victim should consult with a law enforcement officer and obtain legal advice as appropriate.

What Is a Domestic Violence Protection Order or Restraining Order?

Domestic Violence Protection or Restraining Order (DVPO) is an order issued by a court that applies to a person identified as an abuser. Protection orders prohibit the abuser from engaging in certain behaviors and activities against the victim.

It's important to note that courts may have protection orders uniquely tailored to the type of abuse alleged. In this article, we will focus on domestic violence protection orders. However, most states also allow for protection orders in situations that do not involve family or household members. This includes sex offenses, stalking offenses, and other crimes of violence.

Courts look at the alleged abuser's conduct when reviewing requests for a domestic violence protection order. Is there threatened or actual physical injury? Did the victim fear for their safety or the safety of their loved one? Is there evidence of immediate danger? Financial, emotional, and psychological abuse allegations alone may not provide such evidence. But a court can include these non-physical forms of abuse to determine what to address in a protection order.

Who Can File for a Protection Order or Restraining Order?

Each state's law will set out specific requirements on who can file for a protection or restraining order. Generally, the victim must be an intimate partner or other family or household member of the abuser. These parties can file a request for a domestic violence protection order. An intimate partner includes a spouse, a former spouse, or a person living as a spouse, such as a live-in domestic partner. This includes persons in opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

Other family or household members may also request an order. This includes parties with a child in common, even if they have never lived together. Children, stepchildren, and other family members related by blood or marriage may also seek a protection order.

In some states, the domestic violence protection order law will also cover situations such as dating violence. Dating violence occurs when parties in an intimate relationship may not have children and may not live together.

Parents or other relatives may also request a domestic violence protection order or restraining order. In some states, minor children can also petition a court for a protection order. Minor children will need the assistance of a responsible adult such as a grandparent. Immigrants (regardless of legal status) may apply for a domestic violence protection order. Courts will provide language interpretation services as needed.

What Does a Protection Order Provide for a Victim?

A domestic violence protection order is a court order. It may provide no contact from the abuser and other forms of relief. For example, a protection order may include the following provisions:

  • Requiring the alleged abuser to move out of the home or residence; the abuser cannot interfere with utilities, phone service, or delivery and mail service; they must surrender keys and garage door openers
  • Prohibiting the alleged abuser or someone they direct from contacting the victim or other household members; this includes contact by telephone, mail, email, text message, social media, etc.
  • Mandating that an alleged abuser or someone they direct stay away and remain a certain amount of distance from the victim at all times (e.g., 500 feet); this includes a place of residence, school, place of work, place of worship, child care or daycare center, etc.
  • Providing terms of child custody and parenting time; providing temporary custody to the victim seeking the restraining order
  • Prohibiting the alleged abuser from possessing a firearm, ammunition, or other deadly weapon; requiring that such weapons be turned over to police within a certain number of business days
  • Prohibiting the alleged abuser from using or placing a device for the purpose of electronic surveillance on the victim
  • Requiring the alleged abuser to surrender motor vehicle(s) keys to police within a certain time
  • Prohibiting the use of alcohol or illegal drugs by the alleged abuser
  • Requiring the alleged abuser to provide child support or spousal support
  • Prohibiting the alleged abuser from removing, hiding, or destroying the victim's personal property items; this includes animals or pets
  • Requiring the alleged abuser to attend a counseling or batterer's intervention program

It's important to remember that a protection order's terms are normally based on the victim's complaint. The order may speak only to matters raised in the court hearing itself. Victim advocates and service providers remind victims daily that a protection order is just a piece of paper. Victims should also engage in safety planning in case the abuser chooses to violate the protection order.

What Happens if the Protection Order Is Violated?

In most states, violating a domestic violence protection order represents a new criminal offense. The new offense may be pursued as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Violating a protection order may also be pursued with a contempt of court. In criminal cases, a violation may also be the basis for a motion to revoke the bail or bond of the defendant.

Are There Different Types of Protection Orders?

Yes. The court may issue different kinds of protective orders. This will depend on the specifics of a person's situation. The main types of restraining orders are:

Emergency Domestic Violence Protective Orders (EPO)

This is an emergency protective order or restraining order issued by the police. A victim may file an EPO when they cannot petition a court right away. This could happen if the court is not open or there is imminent harm. An EPO generally expires in a matter of days. Not all states provide for Emergency Domestic Violence Protective Orders.

Temporary Domestic Violence Protection Orders (TPO)

This type of protection order may occur in a criminal case or a civil case.

In a criminal case, the victim or law enforcement may file the request with the clerk of court. The court may issue a temporary restraining order after a brief court hearing around the time of the criminal defendant's arraignment. The court conducts the hearing based on the charges and information or testimony provided by the police department, the victim, and/or the defendant. Law enforcement will serve the defendant if the court finds good cause and issues the order. A criminal case temporary order lasts only as long as the criminal case. The court may modify the order or terminate the order at any time during the case, up to the case's dismissal or the defendant's sentencing.

In a civil case, a victim (usually called the petitioner) files for the protection order in person at the clerk's office. They will also request an ex parte court hearing where only the victim presents testimony that same day. If the court finds good cause supporting the domestic violence claim, the court issues an ex parte temporary protection order. The court also directs local law enforcement to serve the order and other court papers on the offender (usually called the respondent). The court then schedules a court date for a full hearing, providing notice to both parties. Once it has been served on the respondent, the ex parte temporary protection order will remain in effect until the outcome of the full hearing.

Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO)

This type of protection order represents a final civil protection order issued after the full hearing discussed above. At the full hearing, both parties may testify and offer evidence. If the court finds good cause supporting the domestic violence claim and grants the order, then the court sets forth the terms of the order and has law enforcement serve the parties. The court may modify the terms of its temporary protection order. For example, the court may change the custody order or details of the parenting time schedule. A final hearing civil domestic violence protection order may last for several years. It may be renewed upon request of the petitioner. Terminating a criminal case will not affect the status of this order.

A person who violates any one of these orders may be subject to civil or criminal penalties, including fines or incarceration.

What Happens if the Victim Moves Out of State?

Once a court issues a domestic violence protection order, the order will be valid in all 50 states under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, a victim can ask the police officer to enforce the order no matter where they reside.

How Do You Get a Protection Order? Let an Attorney Help You Obtain a Protection Order

Where a victim should apply for domestic violence protection order may vary depending on the state or county you live in. Generally, you file a request at a local courthouse. Sometimes, specific courts—such as a family court—may be the more appropriate place to apply for a protection order. In most states, the clerk's office or court staff will not charge any costs for the action.

You may at any time call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for a referral to victim service providers in your area. If you are facing immediate physical harm, you should contact the police and call 911. You may also let an attorney assist you. You can contact a legal aid attorney or a family law attorney familiar with seeking a domestic violence protective order.

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