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Know the Laws: Kentucky

UPDATED August 12, 2016

Protective Orders / Domestic Violence Orders

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Emergency protective orders (EPO) and domestic violence orders (DVO) provide protection from harm by a family member or someone you are in a relationship with.

Basic information

back to topWhat is a protective order / domestic violence order?

A domestic violence order is a paper that is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences.  In Kentucky, an immediate ex parte temporary order is known as an emergency protective order (EPO) and a final, longer-term order is known as a domestic violence order (DVO).

 

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

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a protective order.  Kentucky law defines "domestic violence and abuse" as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between "family members" or "members of an unmarried couple:" 

  • physical injury or serious physical injury;
  • sexual abuse;
  • assault;
  • stalking; or
  • putting someone in fear of immediate physical injury, serious phyiscal injury, sexual abuse, or assault.*

Note: If you want to get protection against a boyfriend/girlfriend with whom you do not have a child or with whom you have never lived, you may quailfy for an interpersonal protective order.  (Those relationships do not fit the legal definition of a "member of an unmarried couple" to qualify for a domestic violence order.)  To read the exact defintions of "family members" or "members of an unmarried couple," go to Who can get a protective order?  

* KRS § 403.720(1)

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

There are two types of orders:

Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs). An emergency protective order (EPO) can be ordered without prior notice to the abuser (ex parte) if the judge believes there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence and abuse.*  If you are granted an EPO, the abuser will be notified that you have an order against him/her and the date and time of the hearing for your domestic violence order.

An EPO is not effective or enforceable until it has been served on the abuser or until the abuser has been given oral notice by law enforcement or by the court about the existence of the EPO and what its terms are.*1  Generally an EPO will last for 14 days until your hearing for a domestic violence order.*2  If law enforcement is unable to serve the abuser prior to the hearing, the judge can postpone the court date and extend your EPO for another 14 days.  (The EPO can be extended multiple times over a six-month period while law enforcement attempts service.  However, at the end of the six-month period, if the respondent cannot be located to be served, the emergency protective order will be dismissed "without prejudice," which means you could re-file.)*3

Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs). A domestic violence order can only be issued after you have had a full court hearing where you and the abuser both have the opportunity to tell your sides of the story to a judge.  If the judge believes that "domestic violence or abuse has occurred and may again occur," s/he can order a DVO.*4   You must attend that hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your EPO may expire and you will have to start the process over.

Like EPOs, domestic violence orders are not effective or enforceable until they have been served on the abuser or until the abuser has been given oral notice by law enforcement or by the court about the existence of the DVO and what its terms are.*1  A DVO can last for up to three years.  You may also extend your DVO for additional three year-year period(s).*5  See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information on this process.

* KRS § 403.730(2)(a)
*1 KRS § 403.745(1)
*2 KRS § 403.730(1)(a)
*3 KRS § 403.735(2)
*4 KRS § 403.740(1)
*5 KRS § 403.740(4)

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back to topIn what county do I file for the protective order?

You can file for an emergency protective order or a domestic violence order in the county where you live or a county to which you have fled in order to escape abuse.*  A petition can be filed in the district court, the circuit court, or in family court (if a family court has been established in your county).**

However, if you have left the home and want to keep the address where you are staying confidential, filing in that county would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.

* KRS § 403.725(2)
** KRS § 403.725(6)(a)

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back to topHow can an EPO and a DVO help me?

An emergency protective order (EPO) and a can do the following:

  • order the abuser to not commit acts of domestic violence and abuse against you;
  • order the abuser to have no contact with you or with anyone else specified in the order (including face-to-face, telephone, written, electronic, through a third party, etc.);
  • order the abuser to stay away from you or anyone else specified in the order (for a distance of up to 500 feet)
  • order the abuser to not come within a certain distance of any specified residence, school, or place of employment;
  • order the abuser to not sell or destroy any of your property or any property you share with him/her;
  • order the abuser to leave the home you share;
  • give you temporary custody of your children; and/or
  • provide you with any other protection necessary to eliminate future domestic violence.*

A domestic violence order (DVO) can do the following:

  • order everything that an EPO can order - listed above; and, additionally:
    • award you temporary child support; and/or
    • order that either or both of you receive counseling services available in the community.**

Note: A DVO can be amended (after you file a request and the judge holds a hearing) to require the abuser to wear a GPS device if the abuser has committed a substantial (serious) violation of a domestic violence order and if the judge believes that the GPS device would increase your safety.*** 

* KRS §§ 403.730(2)(a)(1); 403.740(1); see also the petition on the Kentucky Courts website
** KRS § 403.740(1)
*** KRS § 403.761(1)

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Who can get a protective order / domestic violence order

back to topWho can get a protective order?

You can seek court protection from acts of domestic violence and abuse done to you or your minor child by any of the following people:

  • your current or former spouse;
  • your parent or step-parent;
  • your child or step-child;
  • your grandparent or grandchild;
  • a boyfriend / girlfriend with whom you currently or formerly live(d) "as a couple;"
  • a boyfriend / girlfriend with whom you have a child (regardless of whether you ever lived together); or
  • if the child is the victim, a child can file against any person living in the same household with the child regardless of their relationship or against the parent's boyfriend/girlfriend who lives with the parent or has a child with the parent.*

Note: The definition does not include a boyfriend / girlfriend with whom you do not have a child and with whom you have never lived.  However, an interpersonal protective order does cover those types of dating relationships.

* KRS § 403.720(1),(2),(5)

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back to topCan a minor file for an order?

Yes.  The law says that a "victim of abuse" can file a petition for an order and there is no specific age requirement mentioned in the law.  In addition, another option is that any adult (even a non-relative) can file on behalf of a minor who qualifies for an order.*

* KRS § 403.725(1)

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back to topCan I get a protective order against a same-sex partner?

In Kentucky, you may apply for a protective order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who can get a protective order?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence or abuse, which is explained in What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Kentucky?

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

In 2016, Kentucky passed a new law that provides for an interpersonal protective order for victims of dating violence and abuse, stalking, or sexual assault.*  If you don't qualify for a domestic violence order, you might qualify for an interpersonal protective order. 

Protective orders do not cover many types of emotional or mental abuse.  If you're being mentally or emotionally abused,  please contact a domestic violence organization in your area for support and help.  Visit the KY State and Local Programs page for referrals.

Also, remember that the abuser's actions may be considered a crime that can be report to law enforcement or for which you can file a criminal complaint at the district court clerk’s office in the county where the abuse occurred.  To see a list of common crimes in Kentucky, go to our Crimes page.

You can also visit our Staying Safe page for ways to increase your safety.

* KRS § 756.030(1)

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back to topHow much does it cost to file for a protective order? Do I need a lawyer?

There is no cost to file for a protective order.

You do not need a lawyer to file for a protective order. However, you may wish to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the KY Finding a Lawyer page. 

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Steps for getting a protective order / domestic violence order

back to topStep 1 - Get the necessary forms.

You will need to file the forms in the county courthouse where you live (even if you just moved there to escape abuse).*  To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on KY Courthouse Locations. You can also find links to forms online on our KY Download Court Forms page.  

If you need the immediate protection of an emergency protective order (EPO), be sure to tell the clerk.  An EPO is a temporary emergency order that a judge can grant you if you or your child are in immediate danger without prior notice to the abuser.  

Most shelters and other domestic violence prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court.  Go to KY State and Local Programs page for contact information.

* KRS § 403.725(2)

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back to topStep 2 - Carefully fill out the forms.

On the petition, you will be the "petitioner" and the abuser will be the "respondent."  On the petition, in the box provided for explaining why you want the protective order, write about the most recent incidents of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Include details and dates, if possible.  

Note: Do not sign the forms until you are in front of the court clerk. Your statements must be made under oath and the forms may have to be notarized.  


It may also be useful to bring identifying information about the abuser such as a photo (which may be used in serving the order to respondent); addresses of residence and employment; a description and plate number of the abuser's car; and information about his/her gun ownership.  When filling our your address, be sure to give a safe mailing address. If you are staying at a shelter, give a post office box, not the street address. If you do not want the abuser to know your address, ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.

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back to topStep 3 - The judge considers your petition and may grant you an ex parte order.

When you have filed the forms with the clerk of court, s/he will bring your papers to the judge.  If the judge believes there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence and abuse, s/he may give you an emergency protective order (EPO), which is good for 14 days until your full court hearing.*

Regardless of whether or not the judge grants you an EPO, you can still be given a hearing date and time if the judge believes that domestic violence and abuse exists. The hearing will take place within 14 days of your filing your petition.**  At the hearing, the abuser and you will both have a chance to present evidence to the judge.

* KRS §§ 403.730(2)(a); 403.730(1)(a)
** KRS § 403.730(1)(a)

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back to topStep 4 - Service of process

If you get an EPO, it should be served on the abuser by law enforcement.  It is important that you provide accurate, up-to-date information about where the abuser can be found in order for the EPO to be served.  Arrangements for service will be made by the court clerk after the judge issues the order.  For sheriff department contact information, go to our KY Sheriff Departments page.  The respondent must receive notice of the hearing for the final DVO.  If s/he does not receive notice, the hearing will be rescheduled.

You can also register with a statewide system, called VINE Protective Order to receive a confidential notification when the order is served on the abuser.  

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back to topStep 5 - Full court hearing

You must go the full court hearing. If you do not go, your emergency protective order (EPO) will expire, and you may not be able to obtain a domestic violence order (DVO).

If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a DVO, or the judge may reschedule the hearing.  You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a "continuance" (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer.  Go to our KY Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. You can also represent yourself.  See our Preparing Your Case page for tips on how to represent yourself in a protective order hearing.

If you cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the judge's office to ask that your case be "continued," but the judge may deny your request.  If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue an EPO to you since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.

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After the hearing

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

Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Make several copies of the order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your workplace, 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 along with a photo of the abuser.
  • 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. One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the order.
  • Take steps to safety plan, including changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.
Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order.  People 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 abusers obey protective orders, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  Click on Staying Safe for suggestions.  Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support; see KY State and Local Programs.

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back to topI was not granted a protective order. What are my options?

If you are not granted a 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 programs 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. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit our KY State and Local Programs page.

You may 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. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.  For basic information on appeals, see our Filing Appeals page.

If you were not granted a protective order because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify -- (see Who can get a protective order? for qualifying relationships) -- you may be able to seek protection through the criminal court system. You will find more information about this process in What can I do if I don't qualify for a protective order?

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

If the abuser intentionally violates the DVO, it can be considered contempt of court and a criminal offense, which is a Class A misdemeanor.*  

To report the violation to law enforcement, you can call 911 immediately (or you can file a criminal complaint).  In some cases, the abuser can be arrested right away and prosecuted for a crime.  Tell the officers you have a DVO and the respondent is violating it. If found guilty of a violation of a DVO, the abuse can be fined or put in jail.  It is often a good idea to write down the name of the responding officers and their badge numbers in case you want to follow up on your case.

Another way to address the violation of a domestic violence order is to go back to the court that issued the order to file a "show cause" motion for contempt.**  A judge will then review the complaint or affidavit and decide what action to take.

Note:  You can either pursue a civil proceeding or a criminal proceedings for the violation - you cannot pursue both.  Once either proceeding has been filed, the other cannot be pursued, regardless of the outcome of the first proceeding.*

* KRS § 403.763(1),(4)
** KRS § 403.763(2)(a)

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back to topHow do I change or extend my protective order?

Extending your order
When your DVO is expiring, you can apply to extend it for an additional period of up to 3 years. There is no limit on the number of times an order may be reissued (extended).  There does not need to be a new act of domestic violence for the order to be re-issued.*  However, if there has been no further abuse or contact, you may want to be prepared to explain to the judge why you are still in danger of further abuse (based on the history, gun ownership, etc.). 

Changing your order
Either you or the can abuser file a motion to amend a domestic violence order.**  After a hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to grant the amendment (change).  

Note: A DVO can be amended (after you file a request and the judge holds a hearing) to require the abuser to wear a GPS device if the abuser has committed a substantial (serious) violation of a domestic violence order and if the judge believes that the GPS device would increase your safety.*** 

* KRS § 403.740(4)
** KRS § 403.745(5)
*** KRS § 403.761(1)

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back to topWhat happens to my order if I move?

If you move within Kentucky or to another state, your protective order will still be valid and good.  Federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. territories and tribal lands.  You can read more on our Moving to Another State with a Kentucky Domestic Violence Order (DVO) page.

If you are moving to a new state, you may want to call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111 x 2) for information on enforcing your order in another state.

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