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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED September 21, 2012

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 a paper 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.

In terms of getting a protection order, domestic abuse is when a household member or family member does any of these things to you:

  • physically hurts you;
  • tries to physically hurt you;
  • threatens you with serious physical harm;
  • confines your movement or imprisons you in any way (like locking you in a room);
  • destroys or damages your property on purpose and maliciously; or
  • attempts to physically injure any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by you.

To read the exact wording of the law, please see the definitions section on the TN Statutes page.

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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:

  • rapes you;
  • threatens to rape you;
  • makes you afraid s/he will rape you;
  • has sexual contact with you without your consent;
  • threatens to have sexual contact with you without your consent; or
  • makes you afraid s/he will have sexual contact with you without your consent.

Rape is when anyone:

  • forces you to have sex without your consent,
  • has sex with you if you're 13-18 years old and they're 4 or more years older than you, or
  • has sex with you when you're under 13.

To read the exact wording of the law, please see the definitions section on the TN Legal Statutes page.

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of stalking?

Stalking is when someone repeatedly harasses you. You have to be harassed more than once for it to count as stalking.

Harassment is when someone contacts you without your consent, in a way that distresses you. It includes things like:

  • following you without you saying it’s okay;
  • coming up to you when you ask him/her not to;
  • constantly calling you;
  • continually showing up at your house or job (whether or not s/he comes inside);
  • sending you threatening emails; and
  • dropping things off on your property that distress you.
To count as stalking, the harassment must also reasonably make you feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested (bothered).

For the purposes of getting a protection order, you're considered a victim of stalking if anyone has:

  • stalked you;
  • threatened to stalk you; or
  • made you scared that s/he is going to stalk you.

To read the exact wording of the law, please see the definitions section on the TN Legal Statutes page.

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

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

Temporary Protection Orders (TPOs)
These are also known as "ex parte" orders. 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 without the abuser's prior knowledge and without him/her being there in court.  You can ask for a TPO at the same time as you ask for an extended protection order (EPO).  A temporary order lasts 15 days, or until the full hearing for your extended protection order (EPO).

Extended Protection Orders (EPOs)
EPOs are only issued after a full court hearing. They protect you for a longer period of time and can offer you a wider variety of protection measures than a temporary order.  Extended protection orders last up to one year. Before your order expires, you can ask for a one-year extension.

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back to topHow can a protection order help me?

A protection order may:

  • 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 stalk 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);
  • Forbid the perpetrator from possessing, owning or buying firearms; and
  • Direct the abuser to reimburse you 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.*
The following additional terms can only be ordered after a hearing (wehre you and the abuser are given the opportunity to be heard in court):
  • Give you possession of the home and order the abuser to leave the home, allow you back in the home, or both. 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. 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 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. 

* Tenn Code § 36-3-606(a)

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

If the abuser lives in TN, 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 TN, you can file the petition in the county where you live.*

* Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-602(c)

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