An Order of Protection is a document issued by a court and signed by a judge to help protect you from harassment or abuse. In an Order of Protection, a judge can set limits on your partner's behavior. Among other things, a judge can:
- Order your partner to stop abusing you and your children
- Tell your partner to leave and stay away from your home, your workplace and your family
- Direct your partner to have no contact with you—including no phone calls, letters, emails or messages through other people
- Order your partner to stay away from the children, their babysitter, day care or school
In addition, a judge can:
- Decide issues related to custody, visitation and child support
- Order the abuser to pay for expenses related to the abuse such as medical care and property damage
- Decide on the division of certain kinds of personal property
- Require or recommend that your partner attend a program for batterers
There is no fee to get an Order of Protection and it can last for up to one year and can be renewed. Once an order is issued, only a judge can change it. If the order includes a stay-away provision and your partner comes to your house, he or she is violating the order and can be arrested. If you want changes to an order, you must request them from the court.
Because there are many things to consider in deciding if an Order of Protection is beneficial to you, you may want to consult an advocate or attorney to assist you or accompany you to court.
How can an Order of Protection help?
While an Order of Protection cannot guarantee your safety, there are ways it may be of help:
- Police are likely to take your calls more seriously if you have an Order of Protection
- Your partner can be arrested if he or she violates an Order of Protection
- If you have left your home, an Order of Protection can make it easier for you to get the police to go with you to get your personal belongings
- If you are being stalked or harassed at work, an Order of Protection can protect you at your job
- An Order of Protection can establish who has custody of minor children you and your partner have in common
Who can get an Order of Protection?
You can get an Order of Protection if you are 17 years of age or older and have been abused by a spouse, former spouse, an adult you live with or have lived with in the past, an adult you have been in an intimate or dating relationship with, someone who is stalking you or someone with whom you have children even if you are not married or living together.
Step One: Ex Parte Order of Protection
An Ex Parte Order of Protection is a temporary order granted when a judge believes there is immediate or present danger of abuse to you. You can file or petition for an Ex Parte Order of Protection at the courthouse in the county where you live, where you were abused or threatened, or where the person against whom you are seeking protection lives. You will be referred to as the "petitioner" and your partner as the “respondent” in the order. If you are granted the Ex Parte Order of Protection, the sheriff or other law enforcement officer will attempt to find the respondent and serve him or her with the order. Once the order has been served, the respondent is required to abide by the conditions ordered by the judge. An Ex Parte Order of Protection lasts until the hearing for the Full Order of Protection.
If a judge does not feel that there is immediate or present danger of abuse, you will be given a “Notice of Hearing” instead of an ExParte Order of Protection. This notice will be served to the respondent informing him or her that a hearing will be held to determine of an Order of Protection is to be ordered. Until the hearing, there are no conditions or restrictions placed on the respondent and he or she is not in violation of any court order by having contact with you.
Step Two: Full Order of Protection
A Full Order of Protection is scheduled to occur within 15 days of an Ex Parte Order of Protection being granted. The Ex Parte Order of Protection must have been served to the respondent at least 72 hours before this date (not counting weekends and holidays). Your partner may also be present at the hearing and will be able to present his or her testimony to the judge. If you want the Full Order of Protection you must appear at this hearing. If you are absent, the judge will dismiss your order. If the respondent fails to appear in court, you will automatically be granted the Full Order of Protection.
What do I need to bring with me?
It is helpful to bring the following information with you when applying for an Ex Parte Order:
- The full name and a photograph (if you have one) of the person who abused you
- The address or addresses where the abuser can be found
- A description and license number of the abuser's car
- A list of your children's names and ages
Additionally, at the Full Order hearing it may be helpful to have as much evidence as you can to convince the judge abuse has happened. Evidence includes such things as:
- Your statement as to the abuse that happened
- Hospital or doctors reports of injuries
- Dated photographs of injuries
- Police reports
- Statements from family members, neighbors, or others who saw or heard the abuse
The more evidence you have, the more likely the judge will believe you and grant you the legal remedies you are seeking.
Consent Orders of Protection
An Order of Protection granted by consent means that your partner agrees to the terms and provisions of the order, yet does not necessarily admit to the allegations you made about his or her behavior. By agreeing to a consent order, instead of having a hearing, you and the respondent avoid having the judge hear evidence about abuse and violence. Therefore, the judge will not make a finding that abuse has occurred, but he or she will sign the order making it an enforceable order requiring your partner to abide by the terms and provisions of it.
There are some reasons you may find a consent order beneficial. For example, you may feel you are likely to get more of the protections you are seeking, or you may have a judge who otherwise might not be willing to grant the order.
However, because a Consent Order of Protection does not include a finding of abuse by a judge, it may not able to be used as evidence in future legal proceedings such as divorce, child custody or criminal prosecution.
You may ask the judge questions if you are unsure about what you are agreeing to in the order. You may also ask whether an advocate or social worker is available to provide you with information.
Mutual Orders of Protection
Mutual Orders of Protection are sometimes granted when both parties have filed Ex Parte orders against each other and the judge orders both you and your partner to abide by the provisions in the order. It is important to know that by law a Mutual Order of Protection can only be granted if your partner has gone through the process of filing for an Ex Parte. A Mutual Order of Protection may be used by your partner as another weapon of control and harassment. You can be arrested if the police have probable cause to believe you violated the terms of the order.