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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED June 16, 2017

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 willfully (intentionally) harasses you and it reasonably make you feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested (bothered).  The harassment must be part of a “course of conduct,” which is a pattern of conduct made up of two or more separate acts that are committed by the stalker directly, indirectly, or through third parties.*

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, text messages, or any other type of electronic message sent using the Internet, web sites, or a social media platform;
  • 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;
  • sending to that person mail or any electronic communications; 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);
  • direct the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you when the abuser is the sole owner or lessee of the home;
  • 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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Who can get a protection order

back to topAm I eligible to file for a protection order?

Protection orders in Tennessee are designed to protect victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.

If anyone has stalked you or sexually assaulted you, you can ask the court for a protection order against that person, regardless of your relationship to him/her.  If someone has abused you (committed domestic abuse), you need to have a specific relationship with him/her to get a protection order. You can only seek a protection order because of domestic abuse if the abuser is:

  • your spouse or ex-spouse;
  • someone you live with or used to live with;
  • anyone you are dating or used to date;
  • anyone you are having a sexual relationship with or used to have a sexual relationship with;
  • a same-sex partner you've lived with, dated, or had a sexual relationship with;
  • anyone you are related to by blood or adoption; or
  • anyone you are related to by marriage or used to be related to by marriage.*

Note: You can also qualify as a victim of domestic abuse if you are the child of someone in any of the above relationships (regardless of if you are a minor or an adult) and you are being abused.**

In addition, a law enforcement officer who responds to an incident of domestic abuse can file for an ex parte order on your behalf if s/he believes that you are in immediate and present danger of abuse -- even if no arrest is made. You must consent in writing to allow the officer to file for you.  The officer can file for the order even when the courts are closed.***

* TN ST § 36-3-601(5)
** TN ST § 36-3-601(5)(F)
*** TN ST § 36-3-619(h)

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

In Tennessee, you may apply for a protection order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible to file for a protection order?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Tennessee?

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back to topAm I eligible if I'm a minor?

Tennessee law says that minors (most people under 18)* can get a protection order, but there are some special rules.

First, minors have to meet the same eligibility requirements as adults.  In other words, a minor must be the victim of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault to qualify for a protection order - see Am I eligible to file for a protection order? for more information.

Second, one of your parents or your legal guardian needs to sign your paperwork for you before you turn it into the court.  Your parents (or the parent who you live with the majority of the time, if they don't live together) will also get a copy of most of the paperwork you get. A caseworker at a non-profit organization for child abuse and family violence can also sign your paperwork.  However, if the caseworker signs it, the petition cannot be filed against your parent or guardian and s/he will receive any paperwork you filed with the court, unless a judge determines that doing would be seriously harmful to you.**

In cases before the juvenile court where the Department of Children's Services is a party or where a guardian ad litem has been appointed for the child by the juvenile court, the petition may be filed on behalf of the minor by the Department or the guardian ad litem.**

For more information, you may want to speak with a local domestic abuse program for help.  To find an advocate at a local program, please visit the TN State and Local Programs page.

* TN ST § 36-3-601(2)
** TN ST § 36-3-602(b)

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back to topHow much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

There are no fees for filing for a protection order.  Domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault victims do not need have to pay to file, issue, register, serve, dismiss, appeal, or enforce an ex parte order of protection, or an extended order of protection.

If after a hearing, the judge gives you an order or extends an order of protection, the abuser may have to cover the costs related to the order.  However, if the judge does not give you an order or does not extend an order of protection, the judge may make you pay the costs if the judge decides there is clear and convincing evidence of these two things: 1) you are not a victim of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault (the judge cannot make this decision based on the fact that you requested that your petition be dismissed, you did not go to a hearing, or you did not fill out the forms right); and 2) you knew that the domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault did not happen when you filed the petition for the order of protection.*

You do not need a lawyer to file for a protection order.  However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance on the TN Finding a Lawyer page.  Domestic abuse organizations in your area also may be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals.  To find an organization, please visit the TN State and Local Programs page.

* TN ST § 36-3-617(a)
** TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(2)

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The steps for getting a protection order

back to topStep 1: Get the necessary forms.

To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a protection order.  To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on TN Courthouse Locations.

You can get the forms from the civil clerk at the courthouse but you may want to find them before you go and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a domestic abuse organization.  You will find links to forms online on the TN Download Court Forms page.

Many shelters and other domestic abuse prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court.  Go to TN State and Local Programs to find an organization in your area.

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back to topStep 2: Carefully fill out the forms.

On the petition, you will be the "petitioner" and the abuser will be the "respondent."

On the petition, write about the incidents of violence, sexual abuse or stalking, 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 you need immediate protection, tell the clerk that you want to file for a temporary (ex parte) protection order.  There is no fee to file for a protection order.*  A judge can grant you a temporary protection order if you or your child is in immediate danger or for other “good cause.”**  The abuser does not have to be in court or be told beforehand that you are asking the judge for a temporary order for the judge to issue it.

Note: Don’t sign the petition without first checking with the clerk.  You may need to sign it in front of a notary public or court official.
If you are staying at a shelter, give the P.O. Box, not the street address.  If the abuser does not know your address, before you fill out your address, ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.

* TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(1)
** TN ST § 36-3-605(a)

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back to topStep 3: The ex parte hearing

When you return your petition to the court clerk, s/he will send it to a judge.  The judge may wish to ask you questions about your petition. If you request a temporary order to protect yourself until your hearing for the extended protection order, the judge will decide whether or not to grant you the temporary order.  This is called the ex parte hearing.

If the judge believes you or your child are in serious and immediate danger or if there is other “good cause” to do so, s/he may give you a temporary order which is good for 15 days, until your full court hearing.*

Whether the judge or magistrate grants you temporary order or not, you may be given a court date for a full court hearing within 15 days (assuming your petition does not get dismissed).  This hearing will be in front of a judge at the time shown on the "notice of hearing."  At this hearing, the abuser and you will both have a chance to present testimony and evidence to the judge.*

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

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back to topStep 4: Service of process

After you file the petition and a hearing date has been set, the judge will order the appropriate authorities to serve the abuser with a "notice of hearing," your petition, and the temporary ex parte order if one was issued.*  There is no fee for service of an order of protection.**

You may want to contact the police or sheriff to make sure they received your paperwork that needs to be served and to make sure that s/he was served.  To find your local sheriff department, see our TN Sheriff Departments page.

Do not serve the abuser yourself.

* TN ST § 36-3-605(c)
** TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(1)

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back to topStep 5: The full court hearing

On the day of the hearing, you must be present if you want to ask for an extended protection order, which will last for up to one year.  At the hearing, a judge will decide whether or not to give you your extended protection order.  It is very important for you to go to the hearing or else your temporary protection order will expire.  If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the courthouse to ask if it’s possible for your case to be "continued," but the judge may deny your request.  If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you an extended protection order or may reschedule the hearing.

You may wish to have a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  If the 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.  Go to TN Finding a Lawyer to find help in your area.

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After the hearing

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

These are some things you may want to consider after you have been granted a protection order.  Depending on what you think is safest in your situation, you may do any or all of the following:

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse.  If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk how to correct the order before you leave;
  • Make several copies of the protection order as soon as possible;
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times;
  • Leave copies of the order at your workplace, at your home, at the children's school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on;
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser;
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order; and/or
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.
Don’t forget to follow up with law enforcement (if they are serving the order) to make sure that it was served.  You can find contact information for sheriff departments on our TN Sheriff Departments page.

You may also wish to make a safety plan.  People 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 abusers obey protection 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.

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back to topI was not granted a protection order. What are my options?

If you are not granted a protection order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic abuse organizations in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe.  They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need.  For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Staying Safe page.  You will find a list of Tennessee resources on our TN Where to Find Help page.

Physical abuse, stalking, and sexual assault are all against the law.  Whether or not a judge gives you a protection order, you have the right to report a crime to the police and request that they press charges against the abuser.

You may also be able to reapply for protection order if a new incident occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal - go to our TN Finding a Lawyer page.  Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.  For basic information on appeals, go to our Filing Appeals page.

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back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

Violating a protection order can be against the law.  There are two ways to get help if the abuser violates the protection order.

Through the police or sheriff (criminal system)
If the abuser violates the protection order, you can call 911 immediately.  Tell the officers you have a protection order and the respondent is violating it.  If the respondent is arrested, then the district attorney can prosecute the abuser because it is a crime to violate a protection order.  If found guilty of a violation of a protection order, the respondent can be punished (with jail time, a fine, or other penalty).*

Through the civil court system

You may file a motion/petition for civil contempt for a violation of the order in the same court that issued the order.  The abuser can be held in "civil contempt" if s/he does anything that your protection order orders him/her not to do.  To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office and ask for the forms to file for civil contempt.**

Note: If the respondent is found to be in violation of the order, the court may extend the order of protection for up to five (5) years.  After a second, third, fourth, etc. violation of the order, the court may extend the order of protection for up to ten (10) years.***

* TN ST § 36-3-610(a), (b)(2)
** TN ST § 36-3-610(a)
*** TN ST § 36-3-605(d)

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back to topHow do I change or extend the protection order?

You (or the abuser) can file a motion in court at any time to modify the order as long as you can show that there has been a change in circumstances that makes the modification necessary.*  To modify your order, you can go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk.

You can file in court to extend/continue your protection order for one year by filing a motion to extend before your order expires.  After filing the motion, you will be given a new court date, usually within 14 days.  The abuser will be served with your motion by mail. If you file your motion to extend before your order expires but your hearing is not scheduled until after your order’s expiration date, then your order will be extended until your hearing.  After filing for the order to be extended, the process is very similar to getting your first protection order. You will need to explain to the judge why you need continued protection and if you show that there is “cause” to do so, the judge can continue the order for another one-year period.  This process can be repeated to ask for additional one-year extensions of the order.**

Note: If the abuser has violated the order, you can request that the extension last longer than one year.  The court may extend the order of protection for up to 5 years for one violation.  If the respondent is found to have violated the order more than once, the court may extend the order of protection for up to 10 years.***

* TN ST § 36-3-608(b)
** TN ST § 36-3-605(b)
*** TN ST § 36-3-605(d)

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

If you move within Tennessee, your order will still be valid.   It may be a good idea to call the clerk of court where you received the order originally to tell give your new address so that the court can contact you if necessary, but be sure to ask that the address be kept confidential from the abuser if necessary.

Additionally, the 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 may have different regulations for enforcing out-of-state protection orders.  You can find out about your state’s policies by contacting a domestic abuse program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your area.

You may also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111, ext. 2) for information on enforcing your order in another state.

For more information, you can go to our Moving to Another State with a Tennessee Protection Order page.

 

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back to topCan I get more specific information about protection orders in my county?

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee publishes pamphlets with specific information on protection orders in the following counties, which you can read here:

  • Cannon
  • Cheatham
  • Davidson
  • Dickson
  • Houston
  • Humphreys
  • Macon
  • Montgomery
  • Robertson
  • Rutherford
  • Smith
  • Stewart
  • Sumner
  • Trousdale
  • Williamson
  • Wilson.
Please note that WomensLaw is not affiliated with this organization and offers these pamphlets for your information only.

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