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Know the Laws: California

UPDATED January 2, 2017

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

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A domestic violence restraining order is a civil order that protects you from abuse from an intimate partner or family member.

Basic information

back to topWhat is a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO)?

A domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) is a civil court order that 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.

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

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a domestic violence protective order.

Domestic violence is defined as when your current or former spouse, boyfriend / girlfriend, someone you have a child in common with, someone you live(d) with, or someone you are related to through blood or marriage* does one of the following:

  • Causes or attempts to cause you physical injury;
  • Sexually assaults you;
  • Makes you fear that you or another person is in danger of immediate, serious physical injury;
  • Molests, attacks, strikes, batters (uses force), or stalks you;
  • Threatens or harasses you - either in person or through phone calls, emails, etc.;
  • Destroys your personal property; and/or
  • Disturbs your peace.**

Note: If the acts of the abuser do not fit in this definition or if you do not have the specific relationship with the abuser that is mentioned above, you may still be eligible for a Civil Harassment Order.   If you are elderly or a dependent adult, you may qualify for a protective order if you are being physically abused, neglected, financially abused by anyone or deprived of needed care by your custodian (caretaker).  Although we do not have a section on WomensLaw.org about protective orders for an elder or dependent adult, you can read the relevant laws from the Welfare and Institutions Code here on our CA Statutes page.

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code  § 6211
** Ann.Cal.Fam.Code  §§ 6203; 6320(a)

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

There are three types of domestic violence restraining orders:

Emergency Protective Order
If a police officer responds to a domestic violence call, the police officer can call a judge (anytime, day or night) and ask that an emergency protective order be issued for you, which goes into effect immediately.*

A judge will only issue an emergency protective order if s/he believes that there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence or that a child is in immediate or present danger of abuse or abduction (kidnapping) by a parent or relative and that the order is necessary to prevent domestic violence, child abuse or child abduction.*1

An emergency protective order can last only five business days or seven calendar days (whichever is shorter).*2  An emergency protective order is supposed to give you time to go to court to ask for a domestic violence restraining order, which lasts longer.  In the emergency order, the judge can include most of the protections that you can get in a regular DVRO, such as removing the abuser from the home and ordering him to have no contact with you.  It can also give you temporary custody of your children.*3  For other remedies that may be included, see How can a DVRO help me?

Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order
When you go to court to apply for a restraining order, the clerk will give you a date, usually within three weeks, when you will have to come back to court for a full hearing.  If you are in immediate danger and need protection right away, you can ask for a temporary (ex parte) restraining order, which can order the abuser to leave the home, have no contact with you, and offer many other forms of protection that are listed in How can a DVRO help me? *4

Restraining Order After Hearing
Whether or not you get a temporary order, you will be scheduled for a hearing to get a final DVRO.  After having a court hearing, a judge can grant you a “restraining order after hearing” that can last up to five years.  However, if there is no termination date on the order, the order will last 3 years from the date it was issued.*5  See How can a DVRO help me? to read about all of the protections that you can get in a DVRO issued after a hearing.  During the last three months of the order, you can ask the judge to have the order extended for another five years, or permanently.  The judge can make this extension without you having to prove any further abuse.*6

* See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6250
*1 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code §§ 6250; 6251
*2 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6256
*3 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6252(a) & (b); see CA Courts website
*4 See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6320; 6321
*5 See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6345(c)
*6 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6345(a)

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back to topHow can a DVRO help me?

A domestic violence restraining order may order the abuser to not do the following to you, your children, and/or your family/household members:

  • assault, threaten, abuse, follow, stalk, sexually assault, destroy the property of, come within a certain distance of, disturb the peace of, harass or make contact (directly or indirectly) on the telephone or by other means.

The DVRO can also:

  • Grant you the exclusive care, possession, or control of any animal owned or held by either you, the abuser, or a child residing in either of your households and order the abuser to stay away from and not harm the animal;*
  • Order the abuser to be removed from the home you are both living in together even if you do not own the home or you are not the tenant;*1
  • Prohibit the abuser from possessing or purchasing a firearm or ammunition;*2
  • Order the abuser to pay child support and spousal support (if you are married);*3
  • Grant you temporary possession of things that you own together such as a second home, a car, a computer, etc. The judge can also order the abuser to pay ongoing debts associated with those items; *4
  • Order the abuser to pay back money you lost for missing work or other expenses (such as ambulance, medical, dental, shelter, counseling and/or legal fees) that resulted from the abuse;*5
  • Order the abuser to pay your attorney fees if you are unable to pay them and if the abuser earns more money than you do;*6
  • Order the abuser to attend a batterer's treatment program or other counseling service;*7 and
  • Grant anything else you ask for that the judge agrees to.

If you and the abuser have children together, you may also ask the judge to grant additional things such as:

  • Temporary child custody and visitation - The judge can decide where the children will live, which parent will make decisions affecting the children, and how the children will spend time with each parent (including where, when, and whether that time is supervised or not).*8  Note: Any order for custody, visitation, or support that is made within your DVRO will continue to be effective even when the DVRO ends.  You may want to ask the judge to specifically write this fact into the DVRO to make future enforcement of it easier;*9
  • Child support payments - You may ask the judge to order the abuser to pay child support according to California's guidelines.  Please see our Can I get support when I file a DVRO? section for more information.

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

Note: In addition, a victim of abuse can petition the court to transfer a shared cell phone account into the victim's name alone.  The purpose of the law is to ensure that the victim can keep his/her existing wireless telephone number, and the wireless numbers of any minor children in his/her care when the abuser is the account holder.*10

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code §§ 6320(a); 6340(a)
*1 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code §§ 6321(a); 6340(c)
*2 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6304
*3 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6341
*4 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6324
*5 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6342
*6 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6344
*7 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6343
*8 Ann.Cal. Fam.Code  §§ 6323; 6252
*9 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6340(a)
*10 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6347(a) 

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back to topI don't have a lawyer but I am afraid to face the abuser in court by myself. What can I do?

You don’t have to go to court alone.  You can bring a “support person” with you so that you feel safe.  A support person can be a friend, neighbor, church official, family member, or anyone else that you would like to have in court with you to help give you moral support.  There is no training or certification necessary to become a support person, so whoever you choose does not need to take any sort of class before attending court with you.

Your support person can go with you to court to get a protective order, and if you don’t have a lawyer, s/he can sit beside you at the table where the lawyer would normally sit.*

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6303

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Who can get a DVRO

back to topAm I eligible to file for a DVRO?

You can file for a domestic violence restraining order if you or your minor child have been the victims of domestic violence from:

  • A spouse or former spouse;
  • A person you are dating or used to date (it does not have to be a sexual relationship), including a same-sex partner;
  • The mother or father of your child;
  • A person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption (such as a mother, father, child, brother, sister, grandparent, or in-law);
  • A person who regularly lives or used to live in your home* (but you must have a closer relationship than just roommates. Note: If you need a protective order against a roommate, you may qualify for a civil harassment order).**

Even if the most recent act of abuse happened some time ago, the length of time between the most recent act of abuse and the date you filed your petition should not be the determining factor that a judge uses to determine if you can get an order.  The judge is supposed to consider the totality of the circumstances (the "whole picture") in determining whether or not to grant you a DVRO.***

Minors who are 12 years old or older can file for restraining orders without the assistance of a parent or guardian. However, if you are under 18 and living with a parent or guardian, a copy of the restraining order must be sent to at least one parent or guardian, unless the judge determines that doing so would not be in your best interest.****

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6211
** California Courts Self-Help Center
*** Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6301(c)
**** Ann.Cal. C.C.P. § 372(b)(1) & (2)

 

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

In California, you may apply for a domestic violence restraining order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible to file for a DVRO?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic violence in California?

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back to topCan a minor file for a DVRO?

Minors who are 12 years old or older can file for restraining orders without the assistance of a parent or guardian.  However, if you are under 18 and living with a parent or guardian, a copy of the restraining order must be sent to at least one parent or guardian, unless the judge determines it is not in your best interest to do so.*

* Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 372(b)(1) & (2)

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

 There are no fees for filing for a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO).

You do not need a lawyer to file for a DVRO.  However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  Contacting a lawyer can help you 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 contact information for legal assistance on the CA 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.  Go to CA State and Local Programs to find organizations near you.

 

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back to topCan I get financial support when I file for a DVRO?

Sometimes.  If there is no current child support order and your child is living with you, the judge may order the abuser to pay you child support.  However, you have to request it, and there are additional forms you have to fill out.  You can find those forms on the CA Courts website or in court.  In deciding whether to grant child support in domestic violence situations, the judge also considers whether a lack of support would put you and your child in danger.*

You may also be able to get spousal support if you are married to the abuser and no spousal support order exists.  You will have to fill out additional forms, which can be found on the CA Courts website or in court.  When deciding whether or not to order the abuser to pay spousal support, the court considers whether the lack of support would put you in danger (including safety concerns related to your financial needs).**

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6341(a)
** Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6341(c)

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The steps for getting a DVRO

back to topStep 1 - Get the request (application).

You can get the request (application) for a domestic violence restraining order from the court clerk.  To find the courthouse in your county, go to CA Courthouse Locations.

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back to topStep 2 - Fill out the forms.

In the court clerk's office, ask for all the forms that you will need to file for a domestic violence restraining order.  You can also find links to forms online on our CA Download Court Forms page.  Be sure to tell the clerk if you think you need protection right away and want a Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order.  You should be given an instruction booklet in court (called "DV-150") for line-by-line instructions on how to fill out the forms.

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back to topStep 3 - Give the completed forms to the clerk and get a court hearing date.

Give your forms to the clerk.  S/he will then give them to the judge who may or may not want to speak to you.  Only a judge can review your application for (and give you) a temporary (ex parte) restraining order.  The judge may give you the order the same day you ask for it, but if you file in a really busy court or if you file late in the day, the order might not be signed until the next court day.  If you get a temporary restraining order, it will last from the time you file for your restraining order until your full court hearing.

Whether or not you get a temporary order, the clerk will tell you when to come back for your court hearing, generally about three weeks later.  The clerk should write down when and where your hearing will be on the copies of your court forms. 

Note: You must go to the scheduled court hearing.  If you do not go, the judge may dismiss (throw out) your case.  If you absolutely cannot go for some reason, call the court clerk to find out how to get a continuance (this is when the hearing is rescheduled for a later date) and have the temporary order reissued.  According to the law, either party may request a continuance of the hearing, which the judge should grant if there is "good cause" to do so. The request may be made in writing before or at the hearing or orally at the hearing.*

* CA Civil Code §§ 245; 240

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back to topStep 4 - Get the court papers served on the abuser (known as service of process).

The law requires that the abuser be given formal notice that you have filed for a restraining order.  In fact, the judge cannot make any long-term orders or judgments unless the abuser has been properly personally “served” with copies of your forms.  You cannot be the one to give these forms to the abuser.  Your forms can be personally served by anyone over 18 years of age who is not involved in your case,* such as a friend, a relative, law enforcement or a professional process server.  (If you want the sheriff to serve the papers, go to the CA Sheriff Departments to locate a sheriff near you.)  The court will decide how many days before the court date the abuser has to be served.

You do not have to pay to have the court forms served on the abuser if you have law enforcement serve the papers.  The sheriff or marshal can serve domestic violence restraining orders for free** but your county may require that you fill out a "fee waiver application" first.  If you hire a professional process server to serve the abuser, you must pay him/her on your own.

Whoever serves the court papers on the abuser will have to fill out a Proof of Service Form.**  This form will let the judge know that the abuser was served with the forms.  Make sure that you get this form back after it is filled out because it is your responsibility to file it in court.  Before filing it, make 5 copies of it – then bring the original and 5 copies to court to be filed with the clerk.** 

Note: If you were unable to have the abuser served before the court date, you can ask the judge for a new hearing date and another temporary restraining order.  There is a specific form that will need to be filled out and it must be done before the hearing. 

You can go to the CA Courts website for more information and links to all of these forms or ask the court clerk.

* Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 414.10
** See California Courts Self-Help Center

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back to topStep 5 - Go to your court hearing.

To get a final restraining order, you must go to the court hearing and prove that the abuser has committed an act(s) of domestic violence (as defined by the law) against you or your children.  It would likely be best if you had a lawyer with you to represent you at the hearing.  If you can’t get a lawyer before your court date, you can ask the judge for a "continuance" to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer.  It is up to the judge whether or not to grant your request.  According to the law, either party may request a continuance of the hearing, which the judge should grant if there is "good cause" to do so.  The request may be made in writing before or at the hearing or orally at the hearing.*  Go to CA Finding a Lawyer to find legal help.

Here are some tips to remember when going to court for the hearing:

  • Get to court on time (or, even better, get there early);
  • Bring copies of all of the forms that you already filed in court or that you have to file; evidence that will help you prove that you need the DVRO, such as witnesses who saw the abuse, photos of any injuries; medical, repair, or other bills that are related to the domestic violence you suffered; relevant police reports; and other papers that are important to your case.  (For any document you want the judge to look at, bring the original and two copies. Give the court clerk or bailiff one copy to give to the abuser.)  If you are asking for child support, you can try to meet with the court’s family law facilitator to find out how much child support you could get, and take these documents to court as well:
    • Your last three pay stubs;
    • Your most recent federal and state tax returns; and
    • Proof of child care or uninsured health care expenses for the child.
  • If at all possible, arrange for someone to watch your child while you go to court.  If that is not possible, some courthouses have children’s waiting rooms but you should call your courthouse to find out if this is an option before you go to court.  For contact information, go to CA Courthouse Locations.
  • If your child has important information about the violence or threats, ask an attorney, a victim witness counselor, or the domestic violence counselor about how to have the judge hear from your child.  (To find someone who can help you with this, go to CA State and Local Programs.)
  • Check in with the clerk or bailiff as soon as you get to court.  If the abuser is also at the court, and you are worried about your safety, tell the clerk or bailiff so that they can help you.  After you have checked in, take a seat and wait until your case is called.

Note: Even if you cannot find an attorney to represent you, you may want to try to talk to an attorney to get advice as to what types of evidence you can bring to court and other ways to represent yourself.  You can also go to our Preparing Your Case page for more information when representing yourself.

* CA Civil Code §§ 245; 240

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back to topStep 6 - After the hearing

Once the judge has signed the restraining order after hearing form, take all the copies to the clerk's office so they can be stamped and returned to you.

You are entitled to three free certified copies of the DVRO from the court clerk.*  Your order does not have to be certified to be enforced, but in some counties, law enforcement demand a certified copy anyway.  You will need one copy of the final court order for each law enforcement agency you want to give the order to, the abuser, your children's school or daycare provider, and others who will help enforce the court order, and two copies for yourself.  The court may charge a fee if you need more than three certified copies of your DVRO.

If you get confused about exactly what the judge has ordered, you can ask for a copy of the "minute order," which is usually available from the court clerk a few days after the hearing.  The minute order is what the court clerk writes down as the judge tells what order is s/he granting.  You can also purchase a copy of the transcript from the court reporter, which will include everything that was said during the hearing.  (The transcript can be very expensive, so ask for an estimate before requesting one.)  However, the information in the transcript or minute order will not be looked at by the police when enforcing the DVRO.  Only the terms written in the order will be enforced, so please be sure that you read the order carefully before leaving court to make sure that it has the terms in it that you expected it to have.

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code  § 6387

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After the hearing

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

These are some things you may want to consider after you have been granted a restraining order. Depending on what you think is safest in your situation, you may do any or all of the following: 

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse.  If you have any questions about it, be sure to ask the judge or clerk.
  • Make several copies of the restraining order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you all of the time.
  • 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 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.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks and your phone number.

If the abuser did not come to the hearing, you must have the new DVRO served on him/her again.  You can find contact information on our CA Sheriff Departments page.

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.

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back to topWhat if I received a child support order with my DVRO?

If the judge ordered the abuser to pay child support, you will need to fill out and have the judge sign several more forms. You may be able to get free help with all of these forms from the family law facilitator in court or from the Self-Help Center in the courthouse.*

* CA Courts website

 

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back to topHow do I get child support through wage assignment?

There are various forms that need to be filled out to get the child support to be taken directly out of the abuser’s wages.  The CA Courts website gives step-by-step instructions on what to do.  Click here to read all of the steps.

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

If you were not granted a DVRO, 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 CA resources on our CA Where to Find Help page.

If you were not granted a DVRO because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify you for one, you may be able to seek protection through a civil harassment order.  You will find more information about this process in Civil Harassment Orders.

You can also reapply for a DVRO 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.  Also, there is a limited amount of time to file an appeal after the judge denies you the DVRO so please talk to a lawyer immediately if you want to explore this option.  Go to CA Finding a Lawyer for legal referrals.
 

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back to topWhat if the abuser violates the order?

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

Through the police or sheriff
If the defendant violates the DVRO, you can call 911 immediately.  In some cases, the defendant can be arrested right away.*  Tell the officers you have a DVRO and the defendant is violating it.  Always have both a certified copy (that you got from the court clerk) of your Restraining Order After Hearing (CLETS)**, Form DV-130 (with any attachments) and your filed copy of the Proof of Service, showing that the abuser was served with the Restraining Order After Hearing (Form DV-140) with you at all times.***

If the abuser is arrested and criminal charges are filed, you may be asked to go to court to tell what happened.  It may be several weeks or months before the criminal case is called and you are asked to tell about what happened.  It will be easier to remember things for your hearing if you write down everything that happened right after it happens.

Through the civil court
You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order.  The abuser is in "civil contempt" if he does anything that your DVRO orders him not to do.  To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office.

If the abuser is found to be in civil contempt, he could be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to 5 days.****

If the abuser does not follow other parts of the order (such as the child support order), you can also contact the family law facilitator, the family support office of the district attorney, or a private attorney for more information on how to enforce the order.  (For court information, go to: CA Courthouse Locations.)

* See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6388
** See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code  § 6387
*** See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6385
**** Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 1218

 

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back to topHow do I change or extend my order?

If you want your restraining order to last longer, you will likely want to file for the extension one to two months before your order expires to make sure that you will have your hearing before the order ends.  The judge can make your DVRO last for five more years or permanently with no expiration date.  You do not have to prove that there has been further abuse to get the extension.*

You will need to fill certain forms to renew your order. The the court clerk, a private attorney, or a domestic violence counselor should have the forms you will need to have your order continued.  You will also find links to online forms on our CA Download Court Forms page.  You will need to have the abuser served with these forms and attend a hearing.  The CA Courts website gives step-by-step instructions as to what to do after you fill out the forms - click here to read it.

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6345(a)

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

If you move within California or to another state, your order will still be valid and enforceable.  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.*

Different states may have different rules for enforcing out-of-state restraining orders.  If you are moving out of state, you may want to call a domestic violence program in the state where you are going to find out if there are any special regulations regarding out-of-state orders.

Please see our Where to Find Help pages for your state for more information.  You may also want to call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111 x 2) to find out this information.

Note: For information on enforcing a military protection order (MPO) off the military installation or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

* See 18 U.S.C. § 2265

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