Why, When, and How to File an Order of Protection
First, we have to state that we are in no way providing legal advice.
Second, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking for a guide on how and why to file an order of protection.
That’s great. We made this guide for you. However, we aren’t legal professionals. So, if you read this and still have questions, that’s okay! Reach out to local domestic violence shelter, and they can connect you with the resources to handle your more specific questions.
It can be a very scary time and we want to try to simplify the process for you.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is an Order of Protection?
An order of protection is a legal order issued by a court that forbids an individual, known as the “respondent” or “defendant”, from engaging in certain activities that impact the person who filed the order, also known as the plaintiff or petitioner.
To be clear: if you’re filing, you’re the plaintiff. The person you’re filing against is the respondent.
An order of protection can have a few different names, typically depending on where you live and why you’re filing. Here are a few synonyms for an order of protection:
- Restraining order
- Civil Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO)
- Prohibition Order
- Exclusion Order
- Cease and Desist Order
- Order of Prohibition
- Protection Order
- Restriction Order
While we’re at it, here are some order of protection statistics you might find relevant:
- There are between 2 and 3 million temporary restraining orders issued annually in the United States (US DOJ, 2009).
- The reported rates of protection order violation vary widely across studies, from as low as 7.1% to as high as 81.3%.
- Estimates show that 17% (roughly 147 of 880) of the orders initiated go unserved and so are not technically enforceable.
Usually, an order of protection is filed against a current or former partner, but that might not always be the case. If you are in fear for your safety, you may have valid grounds for filing an order of protection. This could be a retaliatory boss who is making threats against you, a stranger online, or anyone else who is causing that fear of violence..
Every order of protection is different. The scope and limitations placed on the respondent (the person you’re filing against) will depend on a variety of factors including the scope and extent of their behavior, your location, and their location.
What are the Grounds for an Order of Protection?
Again, if you are in fear for your safety, you may be eligible to file an order of protection.
If possible, you should document all of the abusive experiences that are occurring. Screenshot messages, take pictures of any visible injuries, and create a timeline of their behavior.
Some behavior that constitutes grounds for filing an order of protection are:
- Physical abuse or assault
- Violent threats
- Stalking (in-person and digital)
- Sexual Assault
You will need to understand your local laws to determine if you can file and what the exact steps are. For example, many states require you to first obtain a police report. We know that dealing with the police and other law enforcement is not always an option for individuals as they may make you feel unsafe or unprotected. Women’s Law provides a robust list of laws around filing an order of protection in your state.
When deciding whether to file an order of protection, you should evaluate your circumstances and decide if it will help or hurt the situation. While orders of protection have proven to be a deterrent of future crimes, they can also anger an individual who might violate the order to hurt you. Go with your gut on whether or not you think this is a safe step for you. Especially when an intimate partner is involved, you are probably a better judge of character than any professional.
After all, it is just a piece of paper.
You can always call a domestic violence crisis hotline to discuss if filing an order of protection is a good idea in your situation.
How to File an Order of Protection
Once you’ve determined that an order of protection is right for your situation, you’ll need to understand the process of how to file an order of protection in your state.
Professionals like those at Safe Horizon can also help you through the process of filing for an order of protection. We highly recommend reaching out to a resource who can help you calmly walk through the process, which can be daunting and confusing, especially if you aren’t familiar with legal proceedings in your state.
Filing an order of protection is a process. It typically starts with going to court and filing a temporary order of protection and receiving an emergency order. You will have to state your case to a judge and provide any available evidence. Your emergency/temporary order of protection will either be granted or denied at this hearing.
If your order of protection is granted, this is not the end of the process. In most cases, the respondent, or the person you’re filing against, must then receive a copy of the order. This process can take anywhere from hours to months and, meanwhile, the order of protection will not go into effect until they have officially been served.
Then, they will get their day in court to defend themselves and determine if a final order of protection is necessary. You will likely be required to attend. If you believe it is safer to completely ghost a situation and leave with no future contact, filing an order of protection might not be for you.
Typically, attorneys are not provided when seeking an order of protection. This means you will either have to represent yourself or hire representation. Organizations like Safe Horizon can help you with the initial filing process but will likely not be able to assist in subsequent court hearings. Depending on your location, other legal resources and advocates may be available to support you in this process. Talking about this (with a local DV crisis hotline) can be a valuable next step in deciding what decision is safest.
Temporary vs. Permanent Restraining Order
Your very first order of protection against an individual is called a temporary or emergency order of protection.
These usually last from a few months to up to five years.
In order for an order of protection to be active, it usually must be served against the respondent. This is sometimes done by the courts, but oftentimes requires hiring a process server or getting a friend or acquaintance to serve the documents. If the respondent’s location is unknown, this step in the process can be very difficult.
A hearing is scheduled and both parties will need to be present. The respondent can choose not to come, which will likely give you favorable standing with the judge when granting a final order of protection.
In this hearing, you will provide evidence of why an order of protection is necessary and the respondent will be allowed to defend themselves. The judge will make a determination on whether to grant a permanent order of protection. While the phrase “permanent” is used, “final” is a better word. This means that an order of protection was granted for a certain period of time, usually 2–5 years. Orders of protection are typically not permanent or last a lifetime.
If Someone Violates an Order of Protection
While it is sad so say, an order of protection is, after all, just a piece of paper. Respondents to orders of protection usually don’t like following orders, laws, or rules, which is part of the reason an order of protection was filed.
Meaning, there is a significant chance the respondent will violate the order.
If this happens, you should immediately call the police and, if you have one, your lawyer. If you don’t call the police, you could be in violation of your own order of protection. An order of protection becomes useless unless you act upon it when it is violated.
If the police deem that it is a violation of the order of protection, the abuser will likely be held accountable to some extent determined by the court. You’ll likely also end up back in court to explain the violation.
As we said before, filing an order of protection is a process. It’s not for everyone and we highly recommend reaching out to local resources to find the solution best for your situation.