Know the Laws: North Carolina
UPDATED October 19, 2012
A domestic violence protection order is a civil order that provides protection from someone who you have/had a "personal relationship" with.
A domestic violence protective order (DVPO) is also called a restraining order, or a 50B. It is a paper which is signed by a judge and tells your abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both women and men victims.
In NC, there are two types of domestic violence protective orders:
This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a domestic violence protective order (DVPO).
Domestic violence in NC is when someone you have had a "personal relationship" with does any of the following to you or your minor child:
A DVPO can:
Yes. If there is a pet in your household (owned by you, your child, or the abuser) and you have concerns for your pet’s safety you can ask a judge to order the abuser not to hurt the pet as part of your 50B order. If the abuser is keeping you from your pet or you worry that the abuser may take the pet with him, you can also ask that you be the one to keep the pet.* This remedy is available in temporary and final DVPOs.
To request that the abuser be ordered not to abuse the pet you would check box # 3a. To request that you have care, custody and control of the pet you would check box # 6a. These boxes are located on page 2 in the DVPO complaint. You should also include any information about the abuser hurting or threatening to hurt your pet(s) in the complaint.
* NCGS § 50B-3(a)(8), (9)(b1)
You can file a petition in the county where you live (permanently or temporarily), or in the county where the abuser lives.*
* NCGS § 1-82
You can seek legal protection from acts of domestic violence done to you or your minor child by someone you have had a "personal relationship" with. This means you can seek protection from:
A dating relationship is one where you are romantically involved over time and on a continuous basis during the course of the relationship. A casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context is not a dating relationship.*
Under the legal definition, you may seek protection from a same-sex partner who has been a household member of yours. 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 and for help presenting your case to the judge. See NC State and Local Programs to find someone who can help.
Teens under the age of 18 need a parent or guardian to file for a protection order on their behalf. For more information, speak to a local domestic violence organization.
If you have not had a "personal relationship" with your abuser, harasser or stalker, you may be eligible for a protective order against stalking or harassment.** Please see How can I get an order against stalking or sexual harassment?
*NCGS § 50B-1(b)
** NCGS § 50C-1
Yes, if you are living with or have lived with your partner in the past (legally called “household member”). While people in heterosexual relationships can get a DVPO regardless if they are living together or in a dating relationship, same-sex couples must be living together or have lived together in the past to get the same protection. However, judges do not always rule consistently in these cases.
You should check with a local domestic violence organization for information about what a judge in your area is likely to do. There may also be other legal options for you as well. To find help in your state, please click on the NC Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
See Who can get a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO)? for more information on how NC law defines who is eligible for a DVPO.
Nothing. There are no fees for filing for a domestic violence protective order.*
* NCGS § 50B-2(a)
No, you do not need an attorney to file for a DVPO or to get an ex parte order.* You also do not need an attorney at the full court hearing, but you may want one, especially if you think the defendant (abuser) will have one. It is recommended that you contact an attorney to make sure that your legal rights are protected. You can get free legal assistance if you contact one of the domestic violence organizations in your area. You may request that an advocate accompany you to court. (See NC Where to Find Help to find an organization in your area.)
You can also get the forms you need from the clerk of superior court in your county.
* NCGS § 50B-2(a)
If you have to miss work for a reasonable time to file and attend hearings for a DVPO, your employer may not fire you, demote you (give you a lower position or rank), deny you a promotion or discipline you as an employee.
You must follow your employer's usual time-off policy, including advance notice to the employer if that is generally required, unless an emergency prevents you from doing so.
Your employer may require documentation of an emergency that prevented you from following your employer's policy regarding giving advance notice. S/he may also ask for any other information or documentation available to you which supports your reason for being absent.*
*NCGS § 50B-5.5
If you do not qualify for a DVPO or if your order is not granted, you can still seek protection from the law and assistance from domestic violence organizations.
If you do not qualify for a DVPO because you do not have a "personal relationship" with a person who has stalked or sexually harrased you, you can file for a civil no-contact order.*
Also, assault, stalking and harassment are against the law. Specific crimes that abusers commonly commit are listed below. If one of these crimes is being committed against you, you can report it to law enforcement. If charges are pressed against the person who has done these things, a judge may be able to order him/her to stay away from you.
The following are common crimes that abusers commit against their intimate partners. They are all misdemeanor crimes. The maximum punishment is 150 days in jail for defendants who fall within the highest prior record level for criminal convictions. Stalking and violation of a DVPO may be felonies if certain criteria are met.
These are felony crimes sometimes committed by abusers:
You may also want to visit our Staying Safe page for ways to increase your safety.
If you are being stalked or harassed, go to the Stalking Resource Center website for more information on stalking and harassment laws, as well safety planning information.
DVPOs 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. They can help you figure out your options, help you stay safe, and offer you support (NC State and Local Programs under the Where to Find Help tab on the top of this page).
*NCGS § 50C
**NCGS § 14
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.)
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.)
The clerk can usually notarize the forms for you.
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)
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.)
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.
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:
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.
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)
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)
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.
One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the DVPO from the clerk.
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 or click the tab on the top of this page.
Violating a DVPO is against the law. There are 3 ways to get help if your abuser violates the DVPO.
NOTE: If you take out a criminal warrant through the magistrate's office and contempt papers through the civil court system based on the same events, contact the district attorney's office before either hearing to discuss punishment options.
*NCGS § 50B-4.1
**NCGS § 50B-4(a)
To modify or change your order, go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk. You can then ask the judge to extend/renew your order for up to two years at a time with the exception of custody provisions which can only last for up to one year.*It is often helpful to request this renewal at least 30 days before your order expires to make sure there is adequate time for a hearing to be scheduled and conducted.
If you move within North Carolina or to any other state in the US, your order will still be valid and good.
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 have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders. For example, some states require you to register your order in the new state. 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. NC does not require that orders be registered from another state. You do not need to register your order if you move to a different county within NC either.
To read more about how to get your NC protective order enforced in another state, or how to get an out of state protective order enforced in NC, please see our Moving with a Protective Order page.
You can also contact the battered women’s program in the state where you are going to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders.
If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) for information on enforcing your order there.
Note: Civil protective orders may not be enforceable on military bases, and military protective orders may not be enforceable off base. Please check with your local police department, court clerk, and/or domestic violence advocate for more details. Please see our Military Info page for more information.
Victims of sexual assault or stalking have a legal right to get an immediate protective order. This is called a civil no-contact order.
This civil no-contact order is similar to the domestic violence protective order because it is designed to prevent attackers or harassers from stalking you, showing up at your workplace or contacting family members.*
With a civil no-contact order, however, you can get an order against a stranger or acquaintance that is stalking or harassing you - you do not have to have a "personal relationship" with the person as required by the DVPO.
Note that if you have had a "personal relationship" as explained in the DVPO laws above, then you cannot get a civil no-contact order. You must file for a DVPO if you seek this type of protection and you have the “personal relationship” as explained in the DVPO laws above.
The procedures for a civil no-contact order are similar to the DVPO procedures outline above, but you will need the correct forms. Links to these forms are available on our Download Court Forms page.
*NCGS § 50C-5