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Know the Laws: North Carolina

UPDATED October 19, 2012

Domestic Violence Protective Orders ("50B orders")

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A domestic violence protection order is a civil order that provides protection from someone who you have/had a "personal relationship" with.

Steps for obtaining a DVPO

back to topStep 1 - Go to the district court courthouse in the county where you live, even if you just moved there.

During business hours, go to the clerk of civil court; otherwise, go to the magistrate's office. Tell the clerk or the magistrate that you want to file for a domestic violence protective order (a "DVPO"). If you need the emergency protection of an ex parte/temporary order, also tell the clerk you need an ex parte order.  (To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on NC Courthouse Locations.)

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back to topStep 2 - Ask the clerk or magistrate for the court forms you'll need.

You can also find links to forms online on the Download Court Forms page.

Most domestic violence prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers. (Go to NC Where to Find Help to find an organization in your area.)

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back to topStep 3 - Do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk.

The clerk can usually notarize the forms for you.

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back to topStep 4 - Carefully fill out the complaint.

On the complaint, you will be the "plaintiff" and the abuser will be the "defendant."

In the small box provided for explaining why you want the DVPO, write briefly about the most recent incident 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.

If your abuser has any firearms, be sure to alert the court so the firearms can be removed from the abuser's possession. If you have children, you may also want to check the box asking for temporary custody. (See also NC Custody)

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back to topStep 5 - You can ask for an ex parte/temporary order for immediate protection.

If you need immediate protection, check the box at the bottom of the complaint to ask for an ex parte order which, if a judge grants it, will take effect immediately. An ex parte order is a temporary emergency order that a judge can grant you if you or your child are in immediate danger. (The abuser does not have to be with you or be told you are asking the judge for an ex parte order.)

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back to topStep 6 - 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. Keep in mind that the abuser will receive a copy of the complaint and summons.

  • When you are finished, the clerk will let you explain your situation to a judge. If the judge believes you or your children are in serious and immediate danger, s/he may give you an ex parte order which is good for 10 days, until your full court hearing.
  • If you are there after business hours, some magistrates may give you an ex parte order which is good only until the case is heard by a judge, which should occur by the end of the next day on which the court is in session in the county.*  You must return to the courthouse to see a judge to get an ex parte order that will last for up to 10 days, until you can have a full court hearing.
Whether the judge or magistrate grants you an ex parte order or not, you will be given a court date for a full court "hearing" within 10 days. This hearing will be in front of a judge at the time shown on the Notice of Hearing. At this hearing, your abuser and you will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge.

* NCGS § 50B-2(c1)

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back to topStep 7 - Identifying information about the defendant.

The “Identifying information about the Defendant” form is used to assist law enforcement in serving and enforcing the order. This form is not required, but may allow law enforcement agencies to locate and more quickly identify the persons involved in the case and to enforce the provisions of the order more effectively. Here you should provide information about:

  • The description of the defendant,
  • Identification information, such as driver’s license and social security number.
  • Defendant’s current work information
  • Information about defendant’s permits to purchase or carry a handgun.

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back to topStep 8 - Take the forms to the Sheriff's Office.

Take the forms, including "Identifying Information About the Defendant" and "Civil Summons," to the Sheriff's Department so they can serve the defendant with the summons, complaint, and notice of hearing (and the ex parte order if one was granted). "Notice of the Hearing" is the document that tells the defendant where and when to appear for the hearing.  Counties do this differently.  In some counties the clerk of courts sends the forms to the sheriff, in other counties the plaintiff has to take the forms to the sheriff.  Please contact your local domestic violence program or the clerk of courts to find out the way it is handled in your county.

You will have to provide some contact information for the defendant so the Sheriff can find him. You may want to give the Sheriff a picture of the defendant and any information you have that will help them locate him. The defendant must receive notice of the hearing from the Sheriff. If the defendant does not receive notice, the hearing will be rescheduled. In addition, if an ex parte order was granted, the defendant must be served with the order for it to be in effect and be enforced.

Note: If you received an ex parte order, keep a copy of it with you at all times. You may also leave a copy with your employer, children’s school, or any place where you or your children often go to.

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back to topStep 9 - Preparing for the domestic violence protective order hearing.

As the plaintiff requesting a DVPO, you must prove that the defendant has committed acts of domestic violence (as defined by the law) against you or your children. Judges are required to grant DVPOs if they find that an act of domestic violence has occurred. You no longer have to prove that an order is needed to keep you safe.

See the Preparing your Case section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.  It is generally recommended to have an attorney at the hearing.  If you need to ask the judge for a continuance (more time) to find a lawyer, the continuance will be limited to one extension of no more than 10 days unless all parties consent or you can show "good cause" for extending it longer.*

* NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)

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back to topStep 10 - Attend the hearing.

On the day of the hearing, you must go to the hearing to ask to have your ex parte order (good only for up to 10 days) turned into a DVPO, which will last for up to one year. If you do not go to the hearing, your ex parte order will expire. If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a DVPO or may reschedule the hearing.

You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if your abuser has a lawyer. You can also represent yourself. If your 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.  However, the continuance will be limited to one extension of no more than 10 days unless all parties consent or you can show "good cause" for extending it longer.*  (Go to NC Finding a Lawyer to find help in your area.)

* NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)

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back to topStep 11 - What to do if you cannot attend your 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 judge denies your request and you miss the hearing, you would have to begin the process over again and re-apply for a new ex parte/ temporary order and DVPO. It can be very difficult to get an order entered by the court once a complaint has been dismissed because you failed to appear in court.

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