Are you being threatened with domestic violence, harassed, or stalked? Do you know someone who is? Every state has some form of legal order that requires someone to stay away from you or your home, stop contacting you, and stop sending you gifts. These orders may be called Order of Protection, Protective Order, Restraining Order, No-Contact Order, or a similar name. The order is not automatic; the person seeking the order must appear before a judge and present evidence of threats or abuse. If the judge issues the order, a person who violates the order may be arrested.
The procedure for obtaining an order vary from state to state, and even from county to county. In most areas, you can obtain the order yourself from the court by filing a petition with the court clerk. The court clerk can provide the forms and instructions, and may do so on a handy website. Other agencies, from non-profit social service organizations to the police department, also provide advice and assistance in many areas. Let’s look at some examples.
In New York, you can obtain a Family Court (or “civil”) Order of Protection yourself by filing a petition with the Family Court clerk. If you need protection from someone who has been charged with a crime, the District Attorney’s Office will obtain the order as part of the criminal case. The New York County District Attorney’s Office has an excellent explanation of the different types of orders.
In Pennsylvania, most Courts of Common Pleas have an office set up to handle petitions for Protection from Abuse Orders. For example, the Berks County Court of Common Pleas Protection From Abuse Office has specific filing hours, but also allows emergency orders to be obtained by video-conference with a judge after regular hours. The office’s website includes helpful information about what the order does and who can obtain one.
Although the route to an order is direct to the courts in Pennsylvania, other government offices can point the way. In Centre County, the District Attorney’s Office provides information about protection orders, including instructions for petitioning the court for an order, and getting assistance with the petition from the police or the local Women’s Resource Center.
In North Carolina, any Clerk of District Court can provide the required Domestic Violence Order of Protection forms and accept the filing. Instructions may come from the District Attorney’s Office, as in Orange County or from the Sheriff’s Office, as in Rockingham County.
In states where different levels of courts have jurisdiction, the process may be a little more complicated, but there will be resources to help you. In Georgia, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office offers downloadable forms and step-by-step instructions to obtain the order from Superior Court. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office provides a brochure with similar information, and a list other resources that can help.
Still in Georgia, the Clayton County Clerk of Magistrate Court has instructions and forms for applying for a Protective Order, and contact information for Legal Advocates who can help with the process. The Lamar County Sheriff’s Office has a Victim Advocate who will help prepare and file the petition.
In Texas, where the jurisdiction of multiple levels of courts varies from county to county, the first stop should be the District or County Attorney’s Office. To help navigate its large and complex court system, the Texas Attorney General provides a good statewide guide to Protective Orders, including a downloadable packet of instructions and forms. In addition, many District and County Attorney’s offices provide instructions for contacting them and applying for an order. Good examples are the Aransas County Attorney and the Bexar County District Attorney. Even where the court provides information, as in Denton County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, that information will direct you to the District or County Attorney’s Office.
So if you’re being threatened, harassed, or stalked, don’t hesitate. Whether you call the court clerk, DA, or law enforcement, someone will direct you to the correct place to file a petition for a Protective Order. CourtReference has court clerk contact information for every county in every state, with links to the clerk’s website where available. CourtReference also has additional online resources in its Self Help category; just look for links that mention Protective Orders, Restraining Orders, or something similar.