What is a Protective Order?
A Protective Order is a court order that is designed to stop an abuser from continuing acts of violence, threatening, harassing, or stalking. The person who requests the order is known as the “applicant” or “petitioner”. The person restricted by the order is known as the “respondent”. Protective Orders are important in ending family violence. The purpose of a Protective Order is to:
1. prevent future violence;
2. identify appropriate and inappropriate behavior; and
3. reinforce beliefs that family violence is wrong and needs to be stopped.
A judge can create various conditions of a Protective Order. For example, a judge may order a respondent to vacate a residence, pay child support, attend counseling, and/or not possess a firearm. Abusers who violate a Protective Order can be fined, arrested, or both.
Who is eligible for a Protective Order?
Victims of family violence are eligible for a Protective Order. In Texas, “family violence” means an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself. A court shall render a Protective Order if the court finds that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. Thus, even after you have left the abusive situation and have gone to a safe place, if family violence might occur again in the future you may be entitled to a Protective Order. A victim’s testimony about past family violence may be enough to obtain a Protective Order, even if there is no police report. In Texas, “family” has a very broad definition. Family can include relatives by blood or marriage, former spouses, parents of the same child (even if not married), foster parents or foster children, or any member or former member of a household (whether or not related by blood or marriage). If you know someone who is being victimized by family violence, there IS something you can do. Any adult member of the family or household may file an application for a Protective Order to protect himself or herself or any other member of the applicant’s family or household. An application for a Protective Order may be filed by an adult member of the dating relationship or any adult may apply for a Protective Order to protect a child from family violence. In addition, an application may be filed for the protection of any person alleged to be a victim of family violence by: (1) a prosecuting attorney; or (2) the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. Please contact your local law enforcement or domestic violence prevention agency immediately if you or someone you care about is a victim of family violence. Even if you are not eligible for a Protective Order, there may be other options available.
How do you obtain a Protective Order?
The first step in applying for a Protective Order is to complete an application. The application may be obtained through the office of the county or district attorney, a private attorney, or a legal aid program. In some communities, domestic violence advocacy groups also provide assistance in obtaining Protective Orders. The application for a Protective Order must be filed in either the county where the victim lives or the county where the offender lives and the applicant’s address can be kept confidential. There are no minimum time limits to establish residency, so even if you have not lived in the same county for very long, you may still file an application for a Protective Order in that county. Protective Orders are available in every county in Texas. Protective Orders are also available for people going through a divorce. However, in this case, the Protective Order must be filed in the same court where the divorce is pending and the pleadings in both matters must state that the other matter is also pending. It is important to remember that a Protective Order is not a custody determination and can not be used by one party to gain an advantage in a divorce proceeding.