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Know the Laws: Missouri

UPDATED September 21, 2012

Orders of Protection due to Domestic Violence

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An order of protection due to domestic violence is a civil order that provides protection from harm by a family or household member. 

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic violence in Missouri?

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting an order of protection.

For the purpose of filing for an order of protection, domestic violence is when a family or household member commits stalking or commits, attempts to commit, or threatens to commit abuse, which is defined as any of the following acts:*

  • Assault: purposely placing or attempting to place you in fear of physical harm;
  • Battery: purposely causing physical harm to you with or without a deadly weapon;
  • Coercion: using force or a threat of force to make you do something or to stop you from doing something;
  • Harassment: committing acts (more than once) that causes you or your child alarm or substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose. For example:
    • Following you or your child in a public place;
    • Peering in the window or lingering outside your home;
  • Sexual assault: causing or attempting to cause you to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, or duress (coercion/pressure);
  • Unlawful imprisonment: holding, confining, detaining or abducting you against your will.**

Stalking is defined as when someone purposely and repeatedly acts in a way that reasonably causes you alarm (fear of danger of physical harm) and that serves no legitimate purpose.  Examples of stalking behavior are repeatedly following you or making unwanted communication / contact with you.***

* MO ST § 455.010(5)
** MO ST § 455.010(1)
*** MO ST § 455.010(13)

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back to topWhat types of orders of protection are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of orders:

1) Ex parte orders of protection - Ex parte is Latin for "from one side.”  A judge can grant you an ex parte order if you prove there is "good cause" to do so.  "Good cause" can be when the judge believes there is an immediate and present danger of abuse to you.*  A judge may grant you the order based solely on your petition and testimony, without holding a hearing.  Ex parte orders may be granted without the abuser’s prior knowledge and without his/her presence in court.

An ex parte order generally will be valid until your court hearing for a full order of protection, which usually takes place within 15 days.**

If you ask for an ex parte order but the judge doesn't give you one, you may get a "Notice of Hearing" instead.  Although this is not an order protecting you, it does mean you have a date and time for a hearing, where the judge will decide whether or not to grant you a full order of protection. To get a full order of protection, you will need to prove your allegations of domestic violence to the judge. 

Note: If you desire, you can receive a notification when the ex parte order is served on the abuser.***  Ask the clerk for information on how to get this notification.

2) Full orders of protection - A full order of protection 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.  If you prove to the judge that you were the victim of domestic violence, you can get an order of protection that will last for a period of time between 180 days and one year.**  Full orders may be extended for a longer period of time.  For more information, see How do I extend, change or dismiss an order of protection?

* MO ST § 455.035(1)
** See MO ST § 455.040(1)
*** MO ST § 455.038

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back to topHow can an order of protection due to domestic violence help me?

An ex parte order of protection can do the following:

  • Forbid the abuser from committing or threatening to commit domestic violence, molesting or stalking you or disturbing your peace;
  • Forbid the abuser from entering your home when it is:
    • Jointly owned, leased or rented or jointly occupied by you and the abuser; or
    • Owned, leased, rented or occupied by you individually; or
    • Jointly owned, leased or rented by you and someone else (not the abuser); or
    • Jointly occupied by you and someone else (not the abuser) as long as the abuser does not have a property interest in the home;
  • Forbid the abuser from communicating with you in any manner or through any medium (i.e., phone, computer, etc.);
  • Make a temporary order of custody of your minor children where appropriate;* and/or
  • Include such other terms as the judge reasonably believes are necessary to ensure your safety.*1

A full order of protection can:

  • Include all of the terms listed above AND
  • Additionally, after a hearing, a full order of protection can order any of the following as long as your petition has facts/allegations relating to these topics and your petition must specifically ask for the things below that you want:*2
    • Award custody of any minor child born to or adopted by the parties when:
      • the court has jurisdiction (power) over such child; and
      • no prior order regarding custody is pending or has been made; and
      • the best interests of the child require that a custody order be issued;
    • Establish a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of the child;
    • Give you child support;
    • Give you spousal support (maintenance) for up to 180 days if you are legally married;*3
    • If you are married to or have children together, the judge can order the abuser to make rent or mortgage payments on the home you are living in OR on a different home (rather than the one you lived in with the abuser) if you choose;
    • Give you temporary possession of personal property, such as cars, checkbooks, keys, and other personal items;
    • Prohibit the abuser from transferring, selling or getting rid of property mutually owned or leased by you and the abuser;
    • Order the abuser to participate in batterers' counseling or drug treatment;
    • Order the abuser to pay a reasonable fee for housing and other services that are/were provided to you by a domestic violence shelter;
    • Order the abuser to pay court costs;
    • Order the abuser to pay the cost of medical treatment and services that are/were provided to you as a result of injuries due to domestic violence committed by the abuser;*4 and/or
    • Order the abuser to pay your attorney's fees.*5
* MO ST § 455.045
*1 MO ST § 455.050(1)
*2 MO ST § 455.050(4)
*3 MO ST § 455.050(8)
*4 MO ST § 455.050(3)
*5 MO ST § 455.075

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back to topHow will the judge decide custody / visitation in a full order of protection?

If the court makes a custody decision in a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge should assume that it is in the child's best interests for the non-abusive parent to get custody.  If there is evidence that both parents have been abusive to each other, the judge will not make this assumption.  Instead, the judge can appoint a guardian ad litem or a court-appointed special advocate to represent the child and will consider all other factors that are normally considered in a custody case.*

When deciding visitation in a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge should give the non-custodial parent visitation rights unless the judge believes that one of the following is true:

  • visitation would endanger the child's physical health;
  • visitation would negatively affect the child's emotional development;
  • visitation would otherwise conflict with the best interests of the child; or
  • that it is not possible to have visitation and still be able to protect the custodial parent from further abuse.**
The court may appoint a guardian ad litem or court-appointed special advocate to represent the minor child whenever the custodial parent alleges that visitation with the noncustodial parent will damage the minor child.**

Note: An order of protection cannot change the custody of children when an action for dissolution of marriage (divorce) has been filed or when a judge has previously awarded custody to a parent.***


* MO ST § 455.050(5)
** MO ST § 455.050(6)
*** MO ST § 455.060(6)

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back to topIn which county can I file for an order of protection?

You can file a petition in the county where you live, in the county where the domestic violence took place, or in any county where the defendant can be served with the petition.*

* Mo. Rev. Stat. § 455.015

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back to topHow much does it cost to get an order of protection? Do I need a lawyer?

There are no fees to you for filing for an order of protection due to domestic violence.*  After a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge could order the respondent (the abuser) to pay court costs.**  Also, the judge could order the abuser to pay your attorney's fees.***

You do not need an attorney to file for an order of protection, but it may be better to have one if you can, especially if you think the abuser will have one.  You can find free and paid legal referrals on our MO Finding a Lawyer page.

In many places, local domestic violence or sexual assault programs and/or clerks' offices can help you file for an order of protection.  You will find a list of places that might be able to help you on the MO State and Local Programs page. You will find contact info for court clerks at the MO Courthouse Locations page.

* MO ST § 455.027
** MO ST § 455.050(3)
*** MO ST § 455.075

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back to topCan I get an order of protection when the courthouse is closed?

Yes.  When the circuit court is unavailable after business hours or on holidays or weekends, you can file a petition for an order of protection (or a motion for a hearing on a violation of any order of protection) before any available court in the city or county having jurisdiction to hear the petition and an ex parte order of protection can be issued.*   During hours when the circuit court is closed, a clerk and judge must be on call to process petitions in cases of emergency.  In St. Louis City and County, the filing is done at a police station when the courthouse is closed.  In some of the outlying counties, it is done by the Sheriff's Dept. Go to MO Sheriff Departments to find the one in your county.

MO ST § 455.030(1)

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