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Know the Laws: Iowa

UPDATED May 16, 2014

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A protective order is a civil order that provides protection for you or your family from an abuser.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Iowa?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a protective order.  Domestic abuse is when someone who you have a specific relationship with commits assault against you,* which is defined as:

  • any act that is intended to cause you pain or injury (and s/he seems to have the ability to commit the act);
  • any act that is intended to result in physical contact, which will be insulting or offensive to you (and s/he seems to have the ability to commit the act);
  • any act that is intended to place you in fear of immediate physical contact, which will be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive (and s/he seems to have the ability to commit the act); or
  • intentionally pointing any firearm toward you or displaying any dangerous weapon towards you in a threatening manner.**

* IA ST § 236.2(2)
** IA ST § 708.1(2)

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back to topWhat types of protective orders are available? How long do they last?

In Iowa, there are three types of domestic violence protective orders.

An emergency order is issued only if the courts are closed (at night or on a weekend) and lasts for 72 hours, which should be enough time to file for a temporary and/or permanent order.*

You can get an emergency order by calling the domestic abuse program nearest you - see our IA Where to Find Help page, or by calling the Iowa Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-(800)-942-0333. 

Temporary orders are similar to emergency orders in almost every respect, except that they last a little bit longer.  Usually you apply for a temporary order at the same time as you apply for a permanent order.  The temporary order will last until you can have a full court hearing on your application for a permanent order.

A temporary order lasts until the court hearing date that a judge will assign you.  Your hearing date will be for a full court hearing on your application for a permanent order.  The hearing usually will take place within 15 days of your applying for the orders.**

A permanent order can be issued only after a court hearing in which you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story. It lasts up to one year and may be extended after that. See below: How do I change or extend my order?

* IA ST § 236.6
** IA ST § 236.4

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back to topHow can a protective order help me?

A temporary order can contain anything that the judge thinks is necessary to protect you from domestic abuse, including temporary custody or visitation orders.  The judge is supposed to keep in mind the safety of you and your children when deciding visitation. If the court finds that the safety of you or your children will be endangered with unsupervised visitation, the judge should restrict visitation, have it supervised, or deny visitation entirely. The judge should also determine whether any other existing orders awarding custody or visitation rights should be modified.  Temporary orders also must specifically include a notice that the abuser may be required to give up all firearms, offensive weapons, and ammunition if a permanent order is issued.* 

In a permanent order, the judge can order the abuser to:

  • stop abusing you;
  • leave the house or apartment where you are living together or provide suitable alternate housing for you;
  • stay away from your home, school or job;
  • not have in his/her possession any firearms, weapons, and ammunition;
  • pay child and spousal support;
  • attend counseling (Note: the judge can also order you and your children to attend counseling as well);
  • pay your attorney's fees and costs.**
The judge can give you:
  • temporary custody of your children and give visitation to the abuser.  Note: The judge is supposed to keep in mind the safety of you and your children when deciding visitation.  If the court finds that the safety of you or your children will be endangered with unsupervised visitation, the judge should restrict visitation, have it supervised, or deny visitation entirely.  The judge should also determine whether any other existing orders awarding custody or visitation rights should be modified.** 
Note: A new law that was passed in April 2014 now allows the judge to grant you exclusive care, possession, or control of any pets or companion animals whose welfare may be affected in both a temporary order and a permanent order.  The animals can belong to you, the abuser or a minor child of you or the abuser.  The judge can also order the abuser to stay away from the animals and not take, hide, bother, attack, threaten, or otherwise get rid of the pet or companion animal.***

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* IA ST § 236.4(2),(2A)
** IA ST § 236.5(1),(4)
*** IA ST §§ 236.4(3A); 236.5(1)

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back to topWhere can I file for a protective order?

You can file for a protective order in the district court where you live or where the abuser lives.*

* IA ST § 236.3

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Who can get a protective order

back to topAm I eligible to file for a protective order?

You can file for a protective order from domestic abuse against any of the following people:

  • a family or household member who you lived with at the time of the abuse or at anytime within the past year. (Note: “Family or household members” means your spouse, someone you live with, your parent, or another person you are related to by blood or marriage);
  • an ex-spouse who you are separated from or divorced from;
  • someone you have a child in common with (even if you were never married and never lived together); or
  • someone you have/ had an intimate relationship with and have had contact with during the year before the abuse. (Note: An “intimate relationship” means a significant romantic involvement, not necessarily a sexual one).*
* IA ST § 236.2(2),(4),(5)

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back to topCan I get an order for protection against a same-sex partner?

Maybe. In Iowa, you can file an order for protection if the assault is between persons who are in an intimate relationship or have been in an intimate relationship and have had contact within the past year of the assault.*

If you share a child with the abuser, you might also be eligible to file for an order of protection against your same-sex partner, whether or not you ever lived with him/her.**

There may also be other legal options for you as well. To find help in your state, please click on the IA Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

* I.C.A. § 236.2(2)(e)
** I.C.A. § 236.2(2)(c)

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back to topCan I get a protective order if I'm a minor?

If you are a minor (under 18) you will need to have a parent or guardian file for a protective order on your behalf.*

* IA ST § 236.3

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back to topCan I get a protective order against a minor?

Yes.  If you file for a protective order against a person under 17 years old, the district court will waive (give up) its jurisdiction and turn it over to juvenile court.*

* IA ST § 236.3

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back to topHow much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

The filing fee and court costs for an order for protection are waived for the plaintiff so it won't cost you anything to apply for an order. It will not cost you anything to have your papers served to your abuser, either.

When an order for protection is entered by the court, the court may direct the defendant (the abuser) to pay to the clerk of court the plaintiff's filing fees and reasonable costs of service of process if the court determines the defendant has the ability to pay the plaintiff's fees and costs.*

You do not need a lawyer to get a protective order, but it may be in your interest to hire an attorney if your abuser is represented by one.  A domestic violence organization in your area may be able to refer you to an attorney or legal aid service who will take your case for free.  Go to our IA Where to Find Help page for a list of organizations in your area.

* IA ST § 236.3

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back to topWhat if I don't qualify for a protective order?

If the abuser has been arrested, you may be able to get a no contact order. A no contact order is issued in criminal court following the arrest for domestic abuse, assault, stalking, harassment, sexual abuse, or violation of a protective order.*  The victim does not need to file for this, as a judge will automatically consider it. The judge may give the abuser a no contact order before the abuser leaves the jail where s/he was held after the arrest.

A no-contact order could restrict the defendant from having contact with you (the victim), anyone living with you, or your immediate family -- this could include children that you have with the abuser.  A no-contact order that requires the defendant to have no contact with your children will win out over any existing order which may conflict with the no-contact order (such as a visitation order).
A no-contact order is also supposed to specifically include notice that the abuser may be required to give up all firearms, offensive weapons, and ammunition if a permanent no-contact order is issued.**  Note: A no contact order from a criminal case cannot give you custody of minor children. To get legal custody of children, you need to start a different case in civil court.

Each order is a little different so you should read it carefully and ask the county attorney if you have questions about what can or should happen.

Many victims fear that the no contact order will only make the abuser angrier. If you are concerned about this, you should talk to a domestic violence victim advocate and the county attorney. They may be able to help you develop a safety plan or may ask the judge to change the order so that it will not be as upsetting to the abuser.  A no contact order should protect you anywhere you go in the United States.

* IA ST § 664A.3(1)
** IA ST § 664A.3(1), (4) - (6)

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Steps for getting a protective order

back to topStep 1: Go to court and request a petition.

Go to the courthouse in your county or the county where the abuser lives.  Find the office of the Clerk of Court. Tell them that you are there to file a petition for a temporary and permanent protection order.  You can find a court near you by going to our IA Courthouse Locations page.  You can also find links to petitions online by going to our IA Download Court Forms page.

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back to topStep 2: Fill out the petition.

Carefully fill out the petition.  It is an important legal document.  Read it carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand something.  Write about the incidents of violence, using descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Be specific.  Include details and dates, if possible.  A domestic violence organization may be able to provide you with help filling out the form.  See IA Where to Find Help for the location of an organization near you.

Do not sign the form when you are finished. It must be signed in front of a notary public. There should be a notary public in the courthouse.  Be sure to bring a picture ID.

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back to topStep 3: A judge will review your petition.

After you finish filling out your petition, bring it to the court clerk.  The clerk will forward it to a judge.  The judge may wish to ask you questions as he or she reviews your petition.  The judge will decide whether or not to issue the temporary order, and if you seek a permanent order the judge will set a date for a hearing.  You will be given papers that state the time and date of your hearing for a permanent order.

If the judge issues you a temporary order the clerk must give it to the 911 dispatcher in the county it was issued.  This is also true of permanent and emergency orders.  Police and other law enforcement agencies anywhere in the state can find out about your order by checking a computerized registry of orders.

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back to topStep 4: Service of process

A protective order is not valid until it is served.  Generally, a sheriff will try to serve the abuser with a notice of hearing and with any temporary or emergency protective orders that a judge has granted you.  However, if the abuser comes into contact with law enforcement for any reason before the order is served (e.g., for a traffic stop), a new law that became effective April 1, 2014 allows a sheriff or any law enforcement officer to "serve" the abuser with a short-form notification in lieu of the order.*  A short-form notification would, among other things, notify the abuser of the prohibited behavior, the risk of arrest for a violation, and put the obligation on the abuser to get a full copy of the protective order from court.  The sheriff/officer can hold him/her long enough to complete service of the short-form order and then the sheriff/officer is supposed to file proof of service in court.**

Usually the court will send copies of the order and notice of hearing to the police or sheriff, but in some areas you may have to bring the papers to the sheriff or police yourself.  You can ask the court clerk or a domestic violence organization for more information about serving the abuser.  Do not try and serve the abuser in person with the papers yourself.

* IA ST §§ 236.3(3)(b); 664A.4A(1),(2)
** IA ST § 664A.4A(3),(4)

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back to topStep 5: What will I have to prove at the hearing?

As the petitioner requesting the protective order, you must prove that the abuser:

  • Physically abused you; OR
  • Pointed a gun at you or menaced you with a dangerous weapon (such as a knife); OR
  • Threatened you with physical contact that would cause you pain or injury AND the threat put you in fear AND the threat could be carried out immediately.
See the Preparing your Case section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.

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back to topStep 6: The Hearing

You must go to the hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over.  If you do not show up at the hearing it may be harder for you to be granted an order in the future. 

If the abuser does not show up for the hearing the judge may still  grant you a protective order, or the judge may order a new hearing date.

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After the hearing

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courthouse?

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse.  If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the protective order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks and your phone number.

One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the protective order from the clerk.

You may also wish to make a safety plan. Women can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school. Many batterers obey protective orders, but some do not and it is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe. Click on the following link for suggestions on Staying Safe. (You can access the staying safe information any time from the WomensLaw.org Home page.)

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back to topI was not granted a protective order. What can I do?

If you are not granted protective order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe. It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need. For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Staying Safe page. You will find a list of Iowa resources on our Where to Find Help page.

If you were not granted protective order because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify, you may be able to seek protection through a criminal no contact order. See What if I don't qualify for a protective order?

You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.  If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal.   Here is basic information on Filing Appeals. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.

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back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

Violating a protective order is against the law. There are 2 ways to get help if the abuser violates the protective order.

Through the Police or Sheriff (Criminal)
If the abuser violates the protective order, call 911 immediately. Call the police, even if you think it is a minor violation. In some cases, the abuser can be arrested right away. Tell the officers you have a protective order and the abuser is violating it. If the abuser is arrested, then the county attorney can prosecute your abuser because it is a crime to violate a protective order. If found guilty of a violation of a protective order, the abuser may be put in jail and/or fined.

It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case. 

Make sure a police report is filled out, even if no arrest is made.  If you have legal documentation of all violations of the order it will help you have the order extended or modified.

Through the Civil Court System (Civil)
You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order. You can do this even if the police do not investigate or arrest your abuser. The abuser is in "civil contempt" if he does anything that your protective order tells him not to do.

To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office and tell him/her you want to start contempt proceedings against the abuser. You will have to fill out some forms, which the court clerk will give you.  You will also have to attend a court hearing to prove that the abuser violated the order.*

 * IA ST § 664A.7

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back to topHow do I change or extend my order?

To modify your order, go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk. Only a judge can modify or terminate a protective order. The court may be less willing to offer you its protection in the future if you have an order dismissed.

A judge may extend your order by granting a renewal for up to one year. You may have it renewed more than once. You must fill out the "Request to Cancel or Change a Chapter 236 Protective Order” form.  You must submit this form to the court before your first order expires.  The IA court system has a booklet that discusses extending an order (click on the first link called "protect yourself from domestic violence.")  

You will have to attend a short court hearing (which the abuser will also attend) where you must prove to the court that the abuser is still a threat to your safety.

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back to topCan I "violate" my own order?

Yes.  In most states, a petitioner cannot "violate" his/her own order since the order puts limits on an abuser's behavior, not the victim's behavior.  However, in Iowa, victims with protective orders can be held in contempt for "aiding and abetting" in the violation of their own protective orders.  Basically, this means that if you have a no contact order or a stay away order and you decide to still talk to the abuser or see him/her, you can be charged with helping the abuser violate the order. 

* See Henley v. Iowa District Court for Emmet County, 533 N.W. 2d 199 (1995).

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

If you move within Iowa, your order will still be valid and good. It is a good idea to call the clerk to change your address.

Additionally, the federal law provides what is called "Full Faith and Credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protective order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. Territories and tribal lands. Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders. You can find out about your state’s policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor (district attorney) in your area.

If you are moving out of state, you should call the domestic violence program in the state where you are going to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders. If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) for information on enforcing your order there.

Note: Civil protective orders may not be enforceable on military bases, and military protective orders may not be enforceable off base. Please check with your local police department, court clerk, and/or domestic violence advocate for more details. Please see our Military Info page for more information.

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