Know the Laws: Alabama
UPDATED July 28, 2016
A protection from abuse order (PFA) is a civil order that protects you from abuse by a current or former intimate partners or certain household members.
You can file for an order if you are the victim of domestic abuse, as defined below, or if you have reasonable cause to believe that you are in immediate danger of becoming the victim of any act of abuse.* Alabama law defines "domestic abuse" for the purpose of getting a protection from abuse order as the occurrence (actual or attempted) of one or more of the following acts between a current or former intimate partner/household member:
You will notice that the petition for a PFA doesn't include "harassment" as a box to check off - however, if you read the legal definition of harassment, you can see how else you may be able to indicate harassment in one of the available check boxes on the petition.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(a)(1)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-2(1)(a)-(i),(k)-(o)
*** Ala. Code § 30-5-2(1)(j)
There are two types of orders:
Temporary (ex parte) protection from abuse orders.
You can get a temporary ex parte protection order if the judge believes it is necessary to protect you or your children from abuse, or from the immediate and present danger of abuse. You can get an emergency PFA without having to go through a full court hearing. An emergency PFA can protect you from the time you file for the final order until your full court hearing can take place. (However, by law, the judge can take three business days to decide whether or not to grant you an ex parte temporary order.) The full court hearing usually takes place within 10 days of your filing date.*
The advantage of an emergency PFA is that you can get one without the abuser present (known as an ex parte order). You can apply for an emergency PFA by going to the circuit court clerk in the county courthouse in your area. In some counties, you may be required to go to family court or domestic relations court. Tell the clerk you want to apply for an emergency PFA. You must complete the application form and you may be required to see a judge and explain why you need protection.
If the judge denies your request for an emergency PFA, you may still ask the judge to consider your PFA petition through the full court hearing process. At the hearing, you would have a chance to present evidence and witnesses to prove that you were abused and the abuser has a chance to present the same to prove you were not abused.
Final protection from abuse orders.
A final PFA can be issued at a hearing where the abuser is given notice of the hearing and has the right to be present. At the hearing, both you and the abuser present evidence (tell your sides of the story) to a judge. Final PFAs can be permanent (have no expiration date) unless the judge says otherwise or the order is later modified (changed).**
Once the hearing date is set for the final PFA, you must attend that hearing or else your temporary order may expire and you will have to start the process over. If the abuser does not show up to that hearing, the judge may grant a final PFA or s/he may set a new hearing date. If the judge sets a new hearing date, and you had an emergency PFA, make sure the judge extends the emergency PFA so that it is effective until the new hearing date.
Note: You may also want to think about seeking shelter while going through the PFA process. You can call the Alabama Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-650-6522, or contact one of the AL State and Local Programs listed under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-6(a),(b)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-7(d)(2)
In an emergency (ex parte) protection from abuse order, a judge can:
In a permanent protection from abuse order, a judge may order all of the protections of the emergency (ex parte) order listed above. In addition, a judge can order the abuser to:
Under federal law, the abuser likely cannot have or buy a gun while a permanent PFA order is in place against him/her. To read more, please see our Federal Gun Laws page.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-7(b)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-7(c)
A petition for a protection from abuse order may be filed in any of the following counties:
You can be eligible to file for a PFA order if you have been the victim of "domestic abuse," as defined by Alabama law or if you have reasonable cause to believe that you are in immediate danger of becoming the victim of any act of abuse* and you have one of the following relationships to the abuser:
Note: To file, you must be 18 or older or otherwise emancipated. A parent, legal guardian, "next friend" or the State Department of Human Resources may file on behalf of a minor or any person prevented by physical or mental incapacity from seeking a protection order.*** If you are filing a petition on behalf of a minor child who is living at home against the child's parent, step-parent, or legal guardian, you must:
If you are filing on behalf of a minor child who is living at home against someone other than a parent, step-parent, or legal guardian of a minor child, you must have reasonable cause to believe that the minor child is a victim of the acts of abuse or circumstances alleged in the petition.****
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(a)(1)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-2(3),(7)
*** Ala. Code § 30-5-5(a)
**** Ala. Code § 30-5-5(c)
To file, you must be 18 or older or otherwise emancipated. A parent, legal guardian, "next friend" or the State Department of Human Resources may file on behalf of a minor or any person prevented by physical or mental incapacity from seeking a protection order.* Note: If you are the parent, legal guardian, or next friend who is filing the petition on behalf of a minor child who is living at home, and you are filing against the child's parent, step-parent, or legal guardian, you must:
If you are filing on behalf of a minor child who is living at home against someone other than a parent, step-parent, or legal guardian of a minor child, you must have reasonable cause to believe that the minor child is a victim of the acts of abuse or circumstances alleged in the petition.***
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(a)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-5(c)(1)
*** Ala. Code § 30-5-5(c)(2)
In Alabama, you may apply for a protection from abuse order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who is eligible for a protection from abuse (PFA) order? You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained in What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Alabama?
There is no filing fee to get (or to serve) a protection from abuse order.*
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(g)
No. You can represent yourself "pro se" (without a lawyer) throughout the process of seeking a protection from abuse order.* Although you do not need a lawyer to file for a PFA, it may be to your advantage to seek legal counsel especially if the abuser has a lawyer, when child custody issues are at stake, or when during the court hearing for the final order. Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you 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 AL Finding a Lawyer page, or by calling the Alabama Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-650-6522.
In addition, the domestic violence organizations in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary forms. To find a local domestic violence organization, go to AL Local Programs. You will find contact information for courthouses on the AL Courthouse Locations page.
If you are going to be in court by yourself, go to our Preparing your Case page for ways to prepare yourself for your court hearing.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(e)
If you are not eligible for a PFA 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 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 AL resources by clicking on the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
If you are not eligible because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify as a "family or household member," you may be able to seek protection through a Temporary Restraining Order. For more information on Temporary Restraining Orders, you can contact the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-800-650-6522 or read about it on their website.Even if you do not qualify for one of these orders, the abuser may have committed a crime against you. For example, stalking, trespassing, harassment, assault, and communicating threats are against the law. You have the right to report the incidents to the police. If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911. You can read more about crimes in Alabama on our AL Crimes page.
As soon as possible after the abuse occurs, go to the County courthouse where you live, where the abuser lives, or where a civil case is currently pending between you and the abuser to get your petition.* If your county has a Family Court, go to the Family Court clerk (usually in the divorce division). You can obtain a petition during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. To find the courthouse address that you need, go to our AL Courthouse Locations page.
At the courthouse, tell the clerk of court that you want to file a petition for a protection from abuse order. If you are in immediate danger, tell the clerk you also want an emergency (ex parte) order. The clerk will give you the forms. You will also find links to forms online at our AL Download Court Forms page.
Note: Remember to bring photo ID so that you can show it to the clerk when you have to sign your petition in front of the notary. It may also be helpful to have some information about the abuser including:
The clerk will provide you with the forms that you need to file. Read the protection from abuse petition carefully and ask questions if you don't understand something.
On the petition, you will be the "plaintiff" and the abuser will be the "defendant." Write about the most recent incidents of violence, using descriptive language (i.e., words like "slapping," "hitting," "grabbing," "threatening," "choking," etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Be specific. You can also include some of the history of abuse and information on any previous, related court action you have taken against the abuser.
Remember to write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a post office box, not a street address. If the abuser does not know the locations of your residence and employment, be sure to tell the clerk you want your home, work, and other addresses to remain confidential.
If you need assistance filling out the form, ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you. You can also call the AL Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-650-6522 for information on getting help with the PFA process. Another option is to find help through one of the domestic violence organizations listed on our AL State and Local Programs page.
Note: Once you have completed your paperwork, return them to the clerk. Be sure to wait to sign the forms in front of the court clerk, where you will have to show photo ID.
The entire file is brought before a judge for your ex parte hearing. At this hearing, the judge will read your petition and may ask you questions about why you need protection through a PFA order. Only you are present at this hearing, not the abuser (this is what is meant by "ex parte").
If the judge grants you an emergency PFA order, the court clerk should give you a copy of the order. Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. Be sure to keep the order with you at all times. You may want to keep copies in your car, workplace, or daycare. The judge will also set a hearing date for your final PFA order hearing.
The abuser must be served with the papers that tell him/her about the hearing date (called Notice of an Application for a Protection from Abuse order), a copy of the petition that you filed, and your emergency PFA (if the judge gave you one). If you are granted an emergency PFA, the clerk of court will tell you where to go to get the papers served on the abuser. The PFA order is not effective until it is served on the abuser. There is no fee for service.*
Note: Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-5(e)
A judge will set a hearing date that is generally within 10 days of filing your petition.* The abuser has the right to be present for this hearing. This means you may have to face him/her in court. You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your emergency PFA will expire (if you were granted one), and you will have to start the process over. If you do not show up at the hearing, it may be harder for you to get a PFA in the future.
If the abuser received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge may issue a "default judgment" and grant you a PFA against him/her anyway OR the judge may set a new hearing date. If you have an emergency PFA, make sure the judge extends it so that it remains effective until the date of your new hearing.
At the hearing, you will testify in court and you can present other evidence or witnesses to prove the abuse you have experienced. The abuser will also be allowed to testify in the hearing. The judge will make a decision after hearing all of the testimony and considering all of the evidence.
You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If you show up to court and you need more time to find a lawyer, or the abuser has a lawyer and you do not, you may ask the judge for a "continuance" to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer for yourself. If you will be representing yourself, go to our Preparing Your Case page for tips on how to prepare yourself for court. If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue or extend your emergency order (if you have one), since your original order will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.**
* Ala. Code § 30-5-6(a)
** Ala. Code § 30-5-6(c)
Once you leave the courthouse, here is a list of things you might want to do:
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 batterers obey protective orders, but some do not. It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe. Go to our Staying Safe page for more information. Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support. You can find local domestic violence organizations on our AL State and Local Programs page.
If you are not granted a PFA 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 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 AL resources on our AL State and Local Programs page.
You may also be able to reapply for PFA 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 someone at a domestic violence organization or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. You can find some basic information on appeals on our Filing Appeals page. You can find legal referrals, free and paid, on our AL Finding a Lawyer page.
You can call the police immediately, even if you think it is a minor violation. It can be a class A misdemeanor crime* and civil "contempt of court" if the abuser violates the order in any way. The PFA order can be violated if the abuser does not follow every provision in the order. It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number(s) in case you want to follow up on your case.
* Ala. Code § 13A-6-142(a)
If you want to modify (change) your protection from abuse order, you must fill out the same form, (entitled "Petition for Protection from Abuse"), as you did during your original application. Go to the nearest Circuit or Family Court clerk and tell them you want to fill out a form to change your protection from abuse order.
Often times, final PFA orders are "permanent" so there is no expiration date.* However, if your protection from abuse order has an expiration date, you can petition the court for an extension of the original order. You must apply for an extension before the original order expires. You will need to go to the Circuit or Family Court clerk to request an extension. You will probably have to fill out a petition similar to the one you filled out for the original order. Note: If you are getting a divorce, you can ask for a final protection from abuse order put into the divorce decree.
* Ala. Code § 30-5-7(d)(2)
Your Alabama PFA order is automatically good throughout Alabama and in all US states. The federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a qualifying criminal or civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go, including US Territories and tribal lands. Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders - in some states, you need to register the order. You can find out about your state's policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your area.
You may also read more about the rules for your state on the Enforcing an AL Protection From Abuse Order in Another State page.