If you are in an abusive marriage or relationship, you can protect yourself and your household members by getting a protective order against your abuser.

What is a Protective Order?

A protective order, also called a restraining order in many states, is an order issued by a magistrate or judge to protect the health and safety of an abused person and his/her family or household members. The person filing for a protective order is called the “petitioner” and the person the protective order is filed against is called the “respondent”.

You are eligible to file a protective order against your abuser if within a reasonable period of time, you have been subjected to an act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places you in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury. (See Code of Virginia §19.2-152.10).

How does a Protective Order work?

By issuing a protective order against your abuser, the court is ordering the abuser, also known as respondent, to not have any contact with you, in person, by phone or by any other method of communication. Not only can they not contact you, they are also barred from directing a third party to contact you on their behalf.

Depending on the terms of the protective order, you can be granted temporary or permanent possession of your residence, car etc. and the Respondent can be ordered to leave your apartment, home, or residence. The respondent can also be barred from cutting off any utilities in your residence.

If you have minor children with the Respondent, the Order can also grant you custody of your children, as well as provide for payment of child support, household expenses, costs arising from the abuse, such as medical care costs, and moving costs. The Respondent may also be ordered to pay for your attorney’s fees.

You can also request that the Protective Order direct the Respondent to attend professional domestic violence and anger management counseling.

Types of Protective Orders and the Process of Obtaining them:

A. Emergency Protective Orders (EPO): Generally a law enforcement officer will request for an emergency protective order. This kind of  protective order will most likely be requested by an officer responding to a domestic abuse situation if an arrest has been made or if the officer finds that someone is in danger of further acts of family abuse or violence. An EPO is issued by a magistrate or a judge and lasts for up to 72 hours.

B. Preliminary Protective Orders (PPO): In order for a judge to issue a preliminary protective order, you have to petition the court, and either provide a sworn written or oral statement to the judge regarding the need for a PPO. A judge will issue a PPO if they hear evidence that the petitioner has been a victim of family abuse, violence, force, or threats of violence within a reasonable period of time.

Usually, the proceeding during which a PPO is granted is an ex-parte proceeding, which means that the Respondent or the other party is not present. If the PPO is granted, then the judge will give you a date for a hearing to decide whether a permanent protective order should be granted. During this future hearing, both parties will get an opportunity to argue their case.

A PPO is usually valid for 15 days or until a hearing for a permanent protective order can be held. The Respondent also has to be served with a copy of the protective order and order directing him to attend the Permanent Protective Order hearing.

C. Permanent” Protective Order (PO): After a hearing where both parties are able to present their respective cases, a judge may grant a Permanent Protective Order. A Permanent Protective order or PO is usually valid for up to a period of two years.

After a period of two years, if the petitioner requests an extension and the judge finds that there is a need to extend protection, then the PO can be extended for an additional period of 2 years. There is no limit to the number of protective order extensions that can be granted by a judge, depending on the need for the extension.

Where can you file a PPO: You can complete and file a petition for preliminary protective order at your county Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Most of the Northern Virginia counties have an intake center where you can call and make an appointment. During your appointment the intake specialist will help you complete your petition. Then you will go in front of a judge who will rule on your request for protective order.

Virginia also has an Online Forms Completion Program for protective orders called I-CAN! Virginia. It is a free online program that helps individuals complete the forms necessary to ask the courts for protective orders. I-CAN! Virginia is available on Virginia’s Judicial System Website at the following link: http://www.courts.state.va.us/courtadmin/aoc/judpln/programs/afapo/home.html

Firearm Possession Prohibition

Pursuant to Code of Virginia §18.2-308.1:4, a person subject to a permanent family abuse protective order, issued since July 1, 2016, is prohibited from possessing a firearm. The Code of Virginia does allow the person to possess and transport a firearm for 24-hours from the time the order is served, solely for the purpose of transferring or selling the firearm to another person who is not prohibited by law from possessing it.

Virginia’s firearm possession prohibition applies only to family abuse permanent protective orders issued pursuant to Code of Virginia §16.1-279.1. It does not apply to emergency, preliminary, or other protective orders.