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Know the Laws: Puerto Rico

UPDATED January 10, 2017

Protection Orders for Domestic Violence

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A protection order in Puerto Rico is a civil order that can try to prevent harm between people in an intimate/family relationship.

Basic information

back to topWhat is a protection order?

A protection order is a civil court order signed by a judge, that tells the abuser to not do specific acts of domestic violence and can include other protections for you and your child(ren).*  It is not necessary to press criminal charges or file a police report in order to get one.** 

* See 8 L.P.R.A § 602(h)
** See 8 L.P.R.A § 621

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic violence in Puerto Rico for the purpose of obtaining a protection order?

Domestic violence (for the purpose of obtaining a protection order) is when one of the following people repeatedly use physical force or psychological violence, intimidation or harassment in order to cause you (or another person) physical harm to yourself, your property or to another person in order to cause you severe emotional harm:

  • your spouse;
  • your ex-spouse;
  • a person with whom you share or have shared a residence;
  • a person with whom you have or have had a consensual relationship; or
  • a person with whom you have a child in common.*

A person can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of his/her sex, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or immigration status.

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 602(p)

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back to topHow can a protection order help me?

A protection order can do the following:  

  • Give you temporary custody of minor children;
  • If you are staying in a shelter for victims of domestic violence, suspend the family relationship between the minor children and the abuser (after consideration of many factors specified by the law);
  • Order the abuser to vacate the home that you share with him/her;
  • Order the abuser to refrain from bothering, harassing, following, intimidating and threatening you and order him/her to not interfere with the temporary custody of the children;
  • Order the abuser to stay a certain distance away from wherever you are;
  • Order the abuser to pay support for the child(ren) and for you, if s/he is legally obligated to do so;
  • Prohibit the abuser from disposing of your private property or of any joint property;
  • Order the abuser to pay for damages caused by the acts of domestic violence, including:
    • moving expenses,
    • expenses for property repairs,
    • legal, medical, psychiatric, psychological, counseling, lodging, shelter and other similar expenses;
  • Order the abuser to temporarily hand over to the police of Puerto Rico any firearm that s/he owns and suspend any license to operate a firearm that they may have;
  • Prohibit the abuser from denying you access to the children or from taking them outside of Puerto Rico; and  
  • Order anything else that the judge believes can benefit your safety or that of your family.*

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 621

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Who can get a protection order

back to topWho can file for a protection order?

Any person who has been a victim of domestic violence or a victim of any crime committed by an intimate partner (as defined in What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Puerto Rico?), can apply for a protection order.  A protection order can be requested in person or through an attorney or the police.  It is not necessary to report the abuse to the police in order to apply for one.*

Additionally, an order can be requested on behalf of any person who suffers from a physical or mental disability or, in the event of an emergency, any person who is unable to request one on their own.** 

An employer can request a protection order on behalf of his/her employees, visitors, or any other person at the workplace if:

  • one of his/her employees has been the victim of domestic violence or criminal conduct as defined in this law; and
  • the domestic violence or criminal conduct occurred at the workplace.

Before starting this procedure, however, the employer should notify the employee who has been a victim of domestic violence or criminal activity of his/her intention to do so.**

* 8 L.P.R.A. § 621
** 8 L.P.R.A. § 623

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

There are two types of orders – ex parte and permanent.

Ex parte protection orders
When requesting a protection order, if you need immediate protection, tell the clerk of the court that you would also like to request an ex parte protection order.  "Ex parte" means that the abuser does not receive advance notice and is not present in the court when the order is granted.  A judge can grant an ex parte protection order if you show that there is a high probability of immediate risk of abuse or there is a chance that notifying the abuser of the order in advance will cause the harm that the protection order is intended to prevent.*

After receiving the ex parte order, the court will notify the abuser within 48 hours and will set a date for a court hearing within twenty days of issuing the order.  In this hearing, the abuser will have the chance to contest the order.  During the hearing, the court can nullify the order or extend it for a period of time deemed necessary.**

Protection orders  
If the court grants you an ex parte order of protection or if the ex parte order is not granted but the case is scheduled for a hearing within the next 5 days, you will have to go back to court so that you can present evidence to the judge.  You may be granted a protection order after a court hearing before a judge, in which both you and the abuser have an opportunity to tell your version of the story.  If the judge believes that you proved that you have suffered from domestic violence, the court will grant a protection order for the period it determines to be necessary.**

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 625(b),(c)
** See 8 L.P.R.A. §§ 625, 624(a)

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

It does not cost anything to request or receive a protection order.

You do not need a lawyer in order to request a protection order.  However, you might want to have a lawyer if the abuser has one.  Even if you can't afford to have a lawyer represent you, it may be a good idea to speak with one to get advice about your case and make sure that your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer but would like the help of one, you can find information about agencies that provide free or low-cost legal services on our page PR Finding a Lawyer.  

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Steps for getting a protection order

back to topStep 1: File a petition.

You should go to the courthouse to file an application.  The application forms are available from the office of the clerk of court in Puerto Rico, including in the municipal courts.

A domestic violence organization may be able to help you fill out the form correctly and may be able to accompany you to the courthouse if you would like them to.  To find a domestic violence organization in your area, please go to our PR State and Local Programs page.  You can also call the courthouse or police closest to where you live.  Go to our PR Courthouse Locations page to find the contact information for courthouses listed by municipality.

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 623(a)(1)

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back to topStep 2: Carefully fill out the forms.

On the application you will be the "petitioner" and the abuser will be the "respondent."

Write about the most recent incidents of violence using descriptive words such as slapping, hitting, pulling, threatening, strangling, etc., whichever are appropriate for your situation.  Include details and dates if possible.  Be specific.

If you need immediate protection, tell the clerk of court that you also want to apply for an ex parte order.  A judge can grant an ex parte order if s/he believes that you are in immediate danger.  (The abuser does not have to be present in the courthouse or receive advance warning with an ex parte order.)

Note: Do not sign the petition until you have shown it to a court assistant because it is likely that the form will have to be notarized or signed in front of an employee of the court.  For this reason, do not forget to bring some type of personal identification with you (driver's license or other type of photo ID).

You may want to keep your home or work address confidential.  However, it is necessary to give the court a mailing address so that they can send you notices in the future.  Be sure to tell the clerk that you would like to keep your address confidential.

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back to topStep 3: The judge will review your petition.

After you fill out and hand all of the necessary forms to the clerk, s/he will deliver them to the judge.

The judge may want to ask you some questions about your application.  If you meet the requirements for an ex parte protection order, the order will be valid until the date of the court hearing, scheduled for within 20 days.*

If the judge does not grant you an ex parte protection order, s/he can still set a date for a hearing for a permanent protection order.  The court will notify the parties of a court date for within a maximum of 5 days.**   The hearing will be before a judge, and both you and the abuser will have the opportunity to tell your side of the story and to have an attorney present to represent you.  At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant the protection order or not.

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 625
** See 8 L.P.R.A. § 624(a)

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back to topStep 4: Service of process

The abuser must be notified by a court bailiff or some other law enforcement officer as soon as possible and given a copy of the summons along with a copy of the application and of the ex parte protection order (if the judge granted one).*

* See 8 L.P.R.A. § 624(b)

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back to topStep 5: The hearing for the permanent protection order

You must attend the hearing, on the day and time indicated on the summons, in order to ask the judge to extend your ex parte protection order (valid for 20 days) or to ask him/her to grant a permanent protection order for a period the court deems necessary.

If you do not attend, your ex parte order will be nullified and you will have to start the whole process all over again.  If you do not attend the hearing, the judge may decide that you do not need the protection order and it may be more difficult for you to obtain an order in the future.

It may be a good idea to have an attorney to represent you at the hearing, especially if you think the abuser will have one, but even if s/he will not.   If the abuser shows up with an attorney, you can ask for a continuance (a hearing on another day) so that you have time to get an attorney for your case.  To find an attorney in your area, go to our PR Finding a Lawyer page.  If you cannot get a lawyer, you can call a domestic violence organization to see if they can help you find an advocate who can accompany you - see PR State and Local Programs for contact information.  If you have to represent yourself, see the section Preparing Your Case to learn how to prove to the judge that you were abused. 

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After the hearing

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

Once the hearing is finished, before leaving the courthouse there are some things you may want to consider doing.  Do those that you think will help you. 

  • Check the order before leaving the courthouse.  Make sure that nothing is missing and if there is an error, tell the clerk.
  • Make several copies of the order as soon as possible.
  • Always keep a copy with you.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work, your home, the school where your children attend, with the people who care for your children, in your car, with a neighbor, friend, etc.
  • Give a copy to the security guard in the building or complex where you live and/or work, along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy to anyone named in or protected by the order.
  • If the courthouse has not already delivered a copy to the police station nearest your residence, give them one of your copies.
  • If you want and if it is allowed, you may want to change the locks on the doors of your home and change your phone number.

You can make a safety plan.  People can do several things to help protect themselves during abuse, while preparing to leave an abusive relationship and after leaving the relationship.  Many abusers obey protection orders but some do not and it is important to keep doing things to protect yourself.  You can read suggestions about how to stay safe on our Staying Safe page.

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

If you did not get a protection order, there are other ways that you can stay safe.  It may be a good idea to contact a domestic violence organization in your area to get help, support and legal advice.  They can help you to develop a safety plan and connect you with the information that you are looking for.  For information and ideas for safety planning, visit the page Staying Safe. You can find contact information for domestic violence organizations at PR State and Local Programs.

You may be able to apply again for a protection order if new acts of violence occur after having been denied the order.

If you think that the judge made an error, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of filing an appeal.  Generally, appeals are complicated and it is very likely that you will need the help of a lawyer.  For more information about appeals, go to our Filing Appeals page.

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back to topWhat happens if the abuser violates the order?

If you think that the abuser has violated the order, you can call the police to report it.  A violation of a protection order can be a class three felony.*  You can also ask the court to hold the other party in contempt for violating the protection order, which can lead to jail time, a fine or both.**

* 8 L.P.R.A. § 628
** 8 L.P.R.A § 626(b)

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

Your protection order should be valid and can be enforced in all of Puerto Rico and the United States.  Federal law contains a provision called “full faith and credit” that mandates that if you have a criminal or civil protection order, it is valid in every US state, including US territories and tribal lands.  You can contact a local domestic violence program or a clerk of court to find the specific rules in your state.  If you move out of state you may want to call a domestic violence program in your new state to find out how that state treats orders from other states.  You can read more on our Moving to Another State with a Protection Order page. 

If you move to another state, you can also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111) for more information about how to enforce your order.

Note: For information about how to enforce a military protection order (MPO) outside of a military base, or how to enforce a civil protection order (CPO) on a military base, please see our page Military Protective Orders

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