Know the Laws: Missouri
UPDATED September 21, 2012
An order of protection due to domestic violence is a civil order that provides protection from harm by a family or household member.
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:*
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)
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
An ex parte order of protection can do the following:
A full order of protection can:
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:
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
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
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)