Know the Laws: Kentucky
UPDATED May 4, 2014
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.
A protective order is a paper which is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both female and male victims. In KY, an immediate temporary order is known as an emergency protective order (EPO) and a final, long-term order is known as a domestic violence order (DVO).
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:"
Destruction of physical property alone is not considered domestic violence, unless it is combined with threatening behavior. To read the exact wording of the law, you can read it on our KY Statutes page.
Note: You cannot get a protective order against a boyfriend/girlfriend who you do NOT have a child with and have NEVER lived with, since that does not fit the definition of a "member of an unmarried couple." 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
There are two types of orders:
Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs). When you go to court to file for a domestic violence order, you can also ask for an emergency protective order (EPO). This can be done without a full court hearing and without your abuser present (this is called ex parte). 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 of the fact an EPO has been issued, what its terms are, where the abuser can get a hard copy of it, and when s/he needs to be in court.* If the sheriff is not able to complete service on the abuser (i.e., if s/he can't find the abuser), you can ask the judge for a continuance to postpone the court date and to extend your EPO. An EPO can only be continued to attempt service for up to six months from the date it was issued. If the respondent has not been served within the six-month period, the emergency protective order will be dismissed "without prejudice," which means you could re-file.**
Whether the judge grants you an EPO or not, you will be given a court date for a hearing, usually within 14 days of filing your petition. At the hearing, you and the abuser have a chance to be present and tell your sides of the story.
Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs). A domestic violence orders (DVO) is a longer-term version of an EPO and can offer some more protections than an EPO. A DVO can only be issued to you 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. 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. A DVO can last for up to three years. You may also extend your DVO for another three year-year period and the amount of times the order can be extended is limitless.*** See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information on this process.
* KRS § 403.735(6)
** KRS § 403.740(4) & (6)(a),(b)
*** KRS § 403.750(2)
You can file for an emergency protective order or a domestic violence order in district court in the county where you live permanently or temporarily. *
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 § 403.740(1)
You can seek court protection from acts of domestic abuse done to you or your minor child by any of the following people:
Note: The definition does NOT include a boyfriend / girlfriend who you do NOT have a child with and have NEVER lived with.*
If you are a minor (under 18) trying to get a protective order against someone in your family, you will need an adult family member to file for an order on your behalf.**
In Kentucky, you may apply for a protection order against a current or former same-sex partner who you have lived with or have legally adopted a child with. However, judges do not always rule consistently in these cases. Please talk to someone at a local domestic violence organization for help determining how a judge is likely to rule on your case. To find help, please click on the KY Where to Find Help page.
* KRS § 403.720(2)
** KRS § 403.725
Maybe. In Kentucky, you can file a protective order against an intimate partner, but only if you lived together or currently live together.*
If you are victim of stalking or harassment, there may be other legal options for you. Assault, stalking, and harassment are against the law. If one of these crimes is being committed against you, you may report it to law enforcement. If charges are pressed against the perpetrator, a judge may be able to order him/her to stay away from you. To find help in your state, please click on the KY Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
* KRS §§ 403.720, 403.725
An emergency protective order (EPO) can do the following:
In Kentucky, protective orders do not cover:
However, assault, stalking, and harassment are against the law. If one of these crimes is being committed against you, you may report it to law enforcement and/or file a criminal complaint at the district court clerk’s office in the county where the abuse occurred. See Criminal Complaints for more information.
To read the legal definitions of stalking and harassment, go to our KY Statutes page. You can also visit our Staying Safe page for ways to increase your safety.
Protective orders also 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. Visit the KY State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
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, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected. 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. Domestic violence organizations in your area also may be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit the KY State and Local Programs page.
You will need to file the forms in the county courthouse where you live, where your abuser lives, or where the abuse occurred. To file the forms, during business hours, go to the Clerk of Civil Court. Tell the clerk that you want to file for a domestic violence order.
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. To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on KY Courthouse Locations.
You can also find links to forms online on the KY Download Court Forms page. 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.
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. Clerks and magistrates can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.
Note: Do not sign the forms until you are in front of the court clerk. Your statements must be made under oath. Also, fill out the top part of the civil summons. Write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a post office box, not the street address. If you do not have a safe address, ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.
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 you have filed the forms with the clerk of court, s/he will bring your papers to the judge. If the judge believes you or your child are in serious and immediate danger, s/he may give you an emergency protective order which is good for 14 days, until your full court hearing.
Regardless of whether or not the judge grants you an EPO, you should be given a hearing date and time. The hearing will take place within 14 days of your filing your petition. If it does not, the court will need to reissue a new EPO to you. At the hearing the abuser and you will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge.
If you get an EPO, it should be served on the abuser by law enforcement. For sheriff information, go to our KY Sheriff Departments page. Arrangements for service will be made by the court clerk after the judge issues the order. The defendant must receive notice of the hearing for the final DVO. If the defendant does not receive notice, the hearing will be rescheduled.
You can also register with a statewide system, called "VINE protective order" (VINE PO) to receive a confidential notification when the order is served on the abuser. 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. To register for VINE PO on the internet, click here.
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.
Here are some ideas of what you can do:
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?
Through the Police or Sheriff. If the defendant violates the DVO, you can call 911 immediately. In some cases, the defendant can be arrested right away. Tell the officers you have a DVO and the defendant is violating it. If the defendant is arrested, then the district attorney may be able to prosecute the abuser. If found guilty of a violation of a DVO, the defendant can be fined or put in jail. It is often 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.
Through the Court System. If you do not want to call the police, or if the abuser has fled the scene prior to the arrival of the police, you can go to the District Court to file either a "show cause" motion or a criminal complaint. Someone at the clerk’s office can help you decide which of the two is more appropriate for your case. A judge will then review the complaint or affidavit and decide what action to take.
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, both you and the abuser can address the importance of the fact that s/he has not committed new abuse.* In other words, you may want to be prepared to explain to the judge why the lack of new incidents doesn't mean that you aren't still in danger of further abuse.
With respect to whether an order should be reissued, any party may present to the court testimony relating to the importance of the fact that acts of domestic violence or abuse have not occurred during the pendency of the order. In order to change or extend your DVO, you must return to the court where you got it. You must file a motion for an extension of your DVO before your current DVO expires, or else you will have to start the entire legal process over from the beginning.
Changing your order
Either you or the 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).
* KRS § 403.750(2)
** KRS § 403.750(3)
If you move within Kentucky, your protective order will still be valid and good. You can read more on our Moving to Another State with a Kentucky Domestic Violence Order page.
Additionally, the 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.
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.