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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.

Basic info

back to topWhat is a domestic violence protective order (DVPO)?

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.

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

In NC, there are two types of domestic violence protective orders:

  1. Ex parte/Temporary protective orders
  2. Final domestic violence protective orders (also called a DVPO or a 50B order or a restraining order).
An ex parte/temporary protective order is a court order designed to provide you and your family members with immediate protection from your abuser. A judge may issue an ex parte order on the same day you file your complaint for a domestic violence protective order if s/he believes that there is a serious and immediate danger to you or your child. If the judge does not issue the ex parte order on the same day, the court must hear the request for an ex parte order within 72 hours or by the end of the next day on which the court is in session in the county of the filing, whichever occurs first.  An ex parte/temporary protective order is usually issued without your abuser present ("ex parte").

In order to get a final domestic violence protective order, you need to have a full court hearing. Your abuser has to be served with notice of the hearing so he has an opportunity to attend. An ex parte/temporary protective order will protect you from the time the ex parte order is entered until your full court hearing takes place, usually within 10 days from when the order is granted or within 7 days from the date the respondent is served, whichever occurs later.* However, the ex parte order will not be able to be enforced until the defendant is served with a copy of the order.

A final domestic violence protective order (also called a DVPO or a 50B order or restraining order) offers the same type of protection as an ex parte/temporary protective order, but it lasts longer. Since it lasts longer, you will have to have a full court hearing to get a final domestic violence protective order. In this hearing, the abuser will have a chance to defend himself/herself.

A final domestic violence protective order lasts up to one year. You can ask the court to extend the order for an additional two years (with the exception of the custody provisions), but you must do so before it expires.** (See How do I modify or extend my order?)

Note: If you have not had a "personal relationship" with the abuser, harasser or stalker, you may be eligible for a protective order against stalking or sexual harassment.***  Please see How can I get an order against stalking or sexual harassment?

* NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)
** NCGS § 50B-3(b)
*** NCGS § 50C-1

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

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:

  • attempts to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causes bodily injury; or
  • places you or a member of your family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
  • or conducts continued harassment, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
  • commits any rape or sexual offense.*
For this and other definitions of legal terms relating to domestic violence, please see our NC Statutes page.

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(a)

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back to topHow can a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) help me?

A DVPO can:

  • Order the abuser not to assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass, or interfere with you and your children in person, at work, on the telephone, or by other means;
  • Allow you to live in the home where you and the abuser have lived together and order the abuser to move out and not return, no matter who owns the home or is on the lease;
  • Order the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you;
  • Tell the police to remove the abuser from the home and help you to return to the home;
  • Give you possession of personal property including a car and household goods, except for the abuser's personal belongings;
  • Order the abuser to stay away from any place you request including your school, your children's school, your work place, your friends' homes, or any place where you are seeking shelter;
  • Order the abuser not to harm your pet;
  • Give you possession of your pet;
  • Give you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation (custody, child support, and visitation only apply if the abuser is the parent of the child);
  • Order your spouse to pay temporary spousal support;
  • Order the abuser to hand over any firearms and prohibit the abuser from purchasing a firearm;
  • Order the abuser to attend an abuser's treatment program;
  • Order the abuser to pay attorney's fees; and/or
  • Order the abuser to do anything else you ask for and the judge agrees to.*
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

*NCGS § 50B-3

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back to topCan my pet be included in my DVPO?

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)

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back to topIn which county can I file for an order of protection?

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

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Who can get a DVPO

back to topWho can get a domestic violence protective order (DVPO)?

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:

  • Your spouse, or ex-spouse,
  • A person of the opposite sex with whom you live or used to live,
  • Someone you are related to, including parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren, over the age of 16,
  • Someone with whom you have a child in common,
  • A current or former household member, or
  • Someone of the opposite sex whom you are dating or have dated.

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

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

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.

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back to topHow much does it cost?

Nothing. There are no fees for filing for a domestic violence protective order.*

* NCGS § 50B-2(a)

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back to topDo I need an attorney?

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)

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back to topWhat if I have to miss work to get a DVPO?

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

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back to topWhat if I don't qualify for a DVPO or if my order is not granted?

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.

  • Assault on a Female
  • Communicating Threats
  • Assault by Pointing a Gun
  • Domestic Criminal Trespass
  • Harassing Phone Calls
  • Injury to Pregnant Woman
  • Injury to Personal Property
  • Assault Inflicting Serious Injury
  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon
  • Stalking
  • Interference with Emergency Communication
  • Violation of a Protective Order
  • Assault in the Presence of a Child
  • Sexual Battery

These are felony crimes sometimes committed by abusers:

  • Rape
  • Sexual offenses
  • Non-fatal strangulation**

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

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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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After the hearing

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

  •  Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If you have ANY questions about it, be sure to ask the clerk or your advocate.
  • Make several copies of the DVPO as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the DVPO with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the DVPO at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on. The sheriff must deliver a copy of the order to the children’s school if the defendant has been ordered to stay away from the school.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work. You may also want to give them a photo of the defendant.
  • 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.

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.

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back to topHow do I make sure that the domestic violence protective order is enforced?

Violating a DVPO is against the law. There are 3 ways to get help if your abuser violates the DVPO.

  1. Through the Police or Sheriff (Criminal)
    If the defendant violates the DVPO, you have the option of calling 911 immediately. In some cases, the defendant can be arrested right away. Tell the officers you have a DVPO and the defendant is violating it. Be prepared to show the officer a copy of your order. If the defendant is arrested, then the district attorney can prosecute your abuser because it is a crime to violate a DVPO. If found guilty of a violation of a DVPO, the defendant can be put in jail for up to 150 days depending on the defendant’s criminal record.*
  2. Through the Magistrate's Office (Criminal)
    If the officers do not arrest the defendant immediately, you may contact the magistrate's office to ask for a criminal "warrant" for violation of the DVPO. The warrant tells the police to arrest your abuser. Then, the district attorney can prosecute your abuser. If found guilty, your abuser can be put in jail for up to 150 days depending on the defendant’s prior criminal record.
  3. Through the Civil Court System (Civil)
    You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order. The abuser is in "civil contempt" if he or she does anything that your DVPO orders him or her not to do. To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office and ask for a "Motion for Order to Show Cause" in a DVPO.** If the court finds that the defendant is in contempt, the defendant may be ordered to pay a fine and/or be sentenced to jail time.

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)

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back to topHow do I extend my order?

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. 

Note: You may also have your order renewed more than once.

*NCGS § 50B-3(b)

 

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

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.

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back to topHow can I get an order against stalking or sexual harassment (a civil no-contact order)?

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

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