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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED January 27, 2015

Protection Orders for Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking

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A protection order is a civil order issued by a state court which requires one person to stop harming another. In Tennessee, protection orders protect against domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Basic information

back to topWhat is a protection order?

A protection order is an order which is signed by a judge and tells someone who is hurting you to stop or face serious legal consequences.  It offers civil legal protection for victims of:

Both men and women victims may be eligible for a protection order.  However, you must meet certain relationship criteria in order to file, which are explained in Am I eligible to file for a protection order?

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a protection order.

For purposes of getting a protection order, you must allege that the abuser has done one or more of these things to you:

  • physically hurts you, tries to physically hurt you, or puts you in fear of physical harm;
  • threatens you with serious physical harm;
  • physical restraint (i.e., confines your movements or imprisons you in any way, such as locking you in a room);
  • destroys or damages your property on purpose (maliciously); or
  • injures, attempts to injure, or puts you or your minor child in fear that s/he will injure any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by you or your minor child.*
Note: The abuser must also have a specific type of relationship to you to qualify for a protection order.

* TN ST § 36-3-601(1)

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of sexual assault?

In terms of getting a protection order, sexual assault is when anyone commits, threatens to commit, or puts you in fear that s/he will commit any form of rape (aggravated rape, rape, mitigated statutory rape, statutory rape, aggravated statutory rape, rape of a child) or sexual battery (aggravated sexual battery, sexual battery, authority figure sexual battery).*

* TN ST § 36-3-601(10)

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of stalking?

Stalking is when someone repeatedly and intentionally (willfully) harasses you (as part of a “course of conduct”) and it reasonably make you feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested (bothered). You have to be harassed more than once for it to count as stalking.*

For the purposes of getting a protection order, you're considered a victim of stalking if anyone (regardless of your relationship with that person) has:

  • stalked you;
  • threatened to stalk you; or
  • put you in fear that s/he is going to stalk you.**
Harassment is when someone contacts you without your consent (“unconsented conduct”), in a way that reasonably causes you emotional distress. It includes actions such as:
  • following you or appearing within your sight;
  • approaching you or confronting you in a public place or on private property;
  • contacting you by phone, mail, or email;
  • showing up at your house or job (whether or not s/he comes inside);
  • entering or remaining on property that you own or lease or occupy; and
  • sending or placing an object on your property.*
* TN ST § 39-17-315(3)-(5)
** TN ST § 36-3-601(11)

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

In Tennessee, there are two types of protection orders for victims of domestic abuse, stalking and sexual assault:

Temporary Protection Orders (TPOs)
Temporary protection orders can be issued for “good cause,” which usually means that the judge believes that there is an immediate and present danger of abuse.  Temporary protection orders are short-term orders that are designed to protect you until you are issued an extended protection order.  The order can be granted ex parte, which means that the order is issued without prior notice to the abuser and without him/her being there in court.  You can ask for a temporary protection order at the same time as you ask for an extended protection order.  A temporary protection order lasts 15 days, or until the full hearing for your extended protection order.*

Extended Protection Orders (EPOs)

Extended protection orders are issued after a full court hearing where both sides have the opportunity to appear in court.  Extended protection orders last up to one year.  Orders can be extended for one-year periods – see How do I change or extend the protection order? for more information.**

* TN ST 36-3-605(a), (b)
** TN ST 36-3-605(b)

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back to topHow can a protection order help me?

A temporary protection order can do any or all of the following:

  • order the abuser to stop committing or threatening to commit domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault against you or your minor children;
  • order the abuser not to call you, contact or otherwise communicate with you, directly or indirectly;
  • order the abuser not to come near you;
  • direct the abuser to immediately and temporarily leave the home shared with you, until your hearing for the protection order;
  • direct the care, custody, or control of any animal of either party or of a child living in the home either to you or to an appropriate animal foster situation (it cannot be given to the abuser); and
  • direct the abuser to reimburse you for all costs, expenses, and fees if you breach a lease or rental agreement if the judge decides that continuing to live in the place you rent may put your life, health, or safety at risk (or that of your children). However, this cannot be interpreted as a change in the terms, liability, or parties of the lease or rental agreement.*
An extended protection order can offer the following:
  • all of the protections listed above; and
  • give you possession of the home and order the abuser to leave the home (and allow you back in the home if you had left). Note: This form of relief is only available to victims of domestic abuse (not victims of stalking or sexual assault);
  • direct the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you when the abuser is the sole owner or lessee of the home. Note: This form of relief is only available to victims of domestic abuse (not victims of stalking or sexual assault);
  • award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of any minor children born to, or adopted by, you and the abuser;
  • award financial support to you (if you and the abuser are married) and other persons the abuser has an obligation to support such as any children you have together; and
  • direct the abuser to attend available counseling programs that address violence and control issues or substance abuse problems.**
* TN ST § 36-3-606(a)
** TN ST § 36-3-606(b)

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

If the abuser lives in Tennessee, you have to file the petition in the county where the abuser lives, or in the county in which the abuse took place.  If the abuser does not live in Tennessee, you can file the petition in the county where you live.*

* TN ST § 36-3-602(c)

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