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Know the Laws: Texas

UPDATED July 20, 2016

Family Violence Protective Orders

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A protective order is a civil order that provides protection from harm by someone you have a specific relationship with. The order can also place other restrictions on the abuser, such as ordering him/her to stay away from you or stop contacting you.

Basic info

back to topWhat is the legal definition of "family violence" in Texas?

This section defines family violence for the purposes of getting a protective order.  Family violence is defined as:

  1. any act committed by one family or household member against another family/household member that is:
    • intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition),* assault or sexual assault; or
    • a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of immediate physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition),* assault or sexual assault.**
  2. any of the following acts committed by a family or household member against a child of the family or household member:
    • physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child (or that has a real risk of resulting in substantial harm)
    • sexual conduct harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare (including acts that come under the offense of continuous sexual abuse of young childindecency with a child, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault)
    • forcing or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct, trafficking (under sections (a)(7) or (8) of the law), prostitution (under section (b) of the law), or compelling prostitution (under section (a)(2) of the law);
    • causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing pornographic or obscene photographing, filming, or depicting of the child;
    • use of a controlled substance (drug) that the use results in physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child;
    • causing, encouraging, or expressly (specifically) permitting a child to use a controlled substance (drug);
    • causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing sexual performance by a child;*** or
  3. dating violence.**** Please read What is the legal definition of “dating violence” in Texas? for more information.

Note: If you commit violence to protect yourself or your children and the court believes you acted in self defense, then this is not family violence.**

* Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(8)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(1)
*** Tex. Fam. Code §§ 71.004(2); 261.001(1)(C), (E), (G)-(K)
**** Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3)

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back to topWhat is the legal definition of "dating violence" in Texas?

Dating violence is when an abuser commits an act that is:

  • intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition)*, assault or sexual assault; or
  • a threat that reasonably places you in fear of immediate physical harm, bodily injury (physical pain, illness, or damage to your physical condition),* assault or sexual assault.** 

The act must be committed against:

  • someone with whom s/he has or had a “dating relationship;” or
  • the new spouse or intimate partner of someone the abuser is/was married to or in a "dating relationship" with.**

A dating relationship is defined as a relationship between people who have or had a continuing romantic or intimate relationship. To determine if a dating relationship exists, the judge will consider:

  1. the length of the relationship;
  2. the nature of the relationship; and
  3. the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.**

If you meet the definition of dating violence, as explained above, continue reading this section for more information about applying for a family violence protective order.***

Note: If you commit violence to protect yourself or your children and the court believes you acted in self-defense, then this is not dating violence.**

* Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(8)
** Tex. Fam. Code  § 71.0021
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3)

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back to topHow can a protective order help me?

A protective order can order the abuser to:

  • stop committing acts of family or dating violence or any acts that are reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass you or a family/household member;
  • stop all communication with you or a family member (directly or through a third party) or stop communication made in a threatening or harassing manner;
  • stay away from your home or place of employment or those of your family or household member;
  • stay away from a school or daycare center that a child protected under the order attends;
  • complete a battering intervention and prevention program or attend counseling with someone who specializes in family violence;
  • follow any custody/visitation terms in the order (Note: The judge can establish temporary custody and visitation for any children you share with the abuser);
  • not remove your child from your possession or from the jurisdiction of the court;
  • stop any transfer or disposal of property that you own or lease with the abuser;
  • not remove a pet, companion animal, or assistance animal from your possession;
  • pay child support or spousal support for the time you have the protective order;
  • leave your home or other specified property (if certain conditions are met) and allow you to remain there - see Can the abuser be removed from the home? for more information;
  • not possess any firearms (unless the person is a peace officer actively engaged in employment as a sworn, full-time paid employee of a state agency) and the judge is supposed to suspend the abuser’s license to carry a handgun if s/he has been found to have committed family violence;
  • not harm, threaten, or interfere with the care, custody, or control of your pet, companion animal, or assistance animal, or that of your family or household member; and
  • perform any other acts that are necessary to prevent or reduce the likelihood of family or dating violence.*

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.  The court may not grant all of your requests, so be sure to read your order carefully to see what specific protections the judge ordered.

Note: Even if the order doesn’t specifically say that the abuser has to turn over his/her firearms, possession of a firearm by a non-police officer who is a respondent in a protective order case is illegal under Texas state law and federal law.  Please see TX State Gun Laws and Federal Gun Laws for more information

* Tex. Fam. Code §§ 85.021, 85.022

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back to topCan the abuser be removed from the home?

Possibly, yes.  A judge can consider excluding the abuser from the home and allow you to stay in the home (grant you "exclusive possession") if the home is:

  • jointly owned or leased by you and the abuser;
  • owned or leased by you; or
  • owned or leased by the abuser and s/he has an obligation to support you or to support your child.*

If you are asking that the abuser be excluded as part of a temporary ex parte protection order, you must prove all of the following through your affidavit and testimony:

  • you currently live in the residence or you have lived there within the 30 days before you filed the application;
  • the abuser has committed family violence against you or a member of the household within the 30 days before you filed the application; and
  • there is a clear and present danger that the abuser is likely to commit family violence against you or a member of the household again.**

Note: If you are asking for exclusion as part of a temporary ex parte order, the judge can postpone the hearing until the end of the same day in order to call the respondent and give him/her the opportunity to be present in court when the court resumes the hearing.** 

* Tex. Fam. Code § 85.021(2)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 83.006

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

You can file a petition in the county where you live, the county where the abuser lives, or any county where the family violence took place.*  However, if you have a divorce case pending or a pending case affecting the parent-child relationship, you must file for the protective order in the court in which that case is pending or in the court in the county in which you reside (and you must notify the clerk of the pending case).**

* Tex. Fam. Code § 82.003
** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.062(a),(b)

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back to topCan I keep my personal information confidential?

Yes.  If you request it, the court can remove from the protective order the address and phone number of:

  • your home (the order will only state the county in which you live);
  • your workplace; and
  • your child's daycare center or school.*

Therefore, if you do not want the abuser to know the locations of these places, make sure to tell that to the clerk when filing your petition and/or check the box to keep addresses and telephone numbers for residences, workplaces, schools, and childcare facilities confidential.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 85.007(a)

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Who can get a protective order

back to topWho is eligible for a protective order?

You can apply for a protective order on behalf of yourself and/or your child if you meet one of the following:

  • The abuser is “a family or household member,” which is defined as:
    • A current or former spouse;
    • A blood relative such as a parent, sibling, child;
    • A relative by marriage (an in-law);
    • A person with whom you have a child in common;
    • A household member (such as a current / former roommate);
    • A foster parent; or
    • A foster child; 
  • The abuser is someone with whom you have/had a “dating relationship;" or
  • The abuser is/was married to or is/was dating someone you are/were married to or are/were in a dating relationship with (for example, the abuser is your girlfriend's ex-husband).*  

In addition, a prosecutor/district attorney or the Department of Family and Protective Services can file an application on behalf of any person alleged to be a victim of family violence.**

You may also be able to get a protective order against someone who has sexually assaulted you even if s/he is not a family or household member (like a co-worker or neighbor).  See Protective Orders for Victims of Sexual Assault or Abuse, Stalking, or Trafficking for more information.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 71.0021, 71.003, 71.005, 71.006
** Tex. Fam. Code § 82.002(d)

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back to topCan a minor file for a protective order?

An adult household member or any adult can file for a protective order to protect a minor from family violence.*  However, if the minor is in a dating relationship and is applying for the order based on "dating violence," s/he can file for the protective order on his/her own.**  Note: A minor is a person under the age of 18.*** 

* Tex. Fam. Code § 82.002(a)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 82.002(b)(1)
*** Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 129.001

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

In Texas, you may apply for a protective order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Who is eligible for a protective order?  You must also be the victim of an act of family violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of "family violence" in Texas?

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back to topHow much does it cost to get a protective order?

Nothing, a protective order is free.  You cannot be charged a fee for filing, serving, entering a protective order, or for getting additional certified copies of the order.*

The court may order that the abuser pay any attorney fees (if applicable), and all other fees, charges, or expenses incurred in connection with the protective order.**

A domestic violence organization may be able to refer you to free legal services.  Please go to the TX Finding a Lawyer page for information about free or low cost legal services.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 81.002
** Tex. Fam. Code §§ 81.003, 81.005

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Types of protective orders available in Texas

back to topWhat types of protective orders are available?

In Texas, there are three types of orders of protection based on family violence:

  1. Temporary ex parte protective order;
  2. Final (permanent) protective order; and
  3. Magistrate's order of emergency protection (what most people call an emergency protective order). 

The first two orders are issued by the civil court upon your application.  The abuser does not have to be arrested for you to get one of these orders.  The third order is issued by the criminal court after the abuser is arrested for family violence.  Each order is explained in more detail in the following questions.

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back to topWhat is a temporary ex parte order? How long does it last?

A temporary ex parte order is a court order designed to provide you and your family members with immediate protection from the abuser.  You can get a temporary ex parte order without the abuser present in court.  To get a temporary ex parte order, the judge has to believe that the abuser presents a clear and present danger of family violence to you or a family member.  The judge will make this decision based upon the information you include in your application for a protective order.*

A temporary ex parte order lasts for the period of time stated in the order, usually up to 20 days.  The temporary ex parte order can be extended for additional 20-day periods if you request it or if the judge decides to extend it, usually due to the fact that the respondent was not yet served.**

* Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001
** Tex. Fam. Code § 83.002

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back to topHow long does a permanent (final) protective order last?

A permanent protective order is effective for the time period stated in the order, which generally may be up to a maximum of 2 years.  If there is no time period written on the order, then it expires on the second anniversary of the date the order was issued.*  However, the may judge to issue an order for longer than two years if:

  • the abuser caused serious bodily injury to you or a member of your family or household; or
  • the same petitioner (you or your child) had two or more protective orders issued against the abuser in the past and in each of those prior cases, the judge found that the abuser committed family violence and was likely to commit family violence in the future.**

After the order has been in effect for 1 year, the abuser can petition the court to ask that the order be discontinued.  The judge will hold a hearing to determine whether there is a continuing need for the order.  If the judge believes there is no need to continue the order, the judge can end the order earlier than the original date set.  Evidence that the abuser did not violate the order does not by itself support a decision that the order is not needed anymore.***

Note: If the abuser is in jail or prison when the order is set to expire or if s/he was released from jail/prison within the one year before the order’s expiration date, the order will automatically be extended.  If the abuser was sentenced to more than 5 years of incarceration, the order will expire on the first anniversary of the date s/he is released from imprisonment.  If the abuser was sentenced to 5 years or less of incarceration, the order will expire on the second anniversary of the date s/he is released from imprisonment.****  You can request a new order from the court showing the extended expiration date to make it easier to enforce in case of a violation. 

Go to How can a protective order help me? to read specific information about what protections can be included in a permanent protective order.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a-1)
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(b)
**** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(c)

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back to topWhat is a magistrate's order for emergency protection? How long does it last?

A magistrate's order for emergency protection (what most people call an emergency protective order) is issued by the criminal court after the abuser is arrested for committing family violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse, or stalking.* 

A magistrate's order for emergency protection is usually good for between 31-61 days.  However, if the abuser was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, the order would be good for between 61 - 91 days.**  The court can issue this order upon your request, or upon the request of your guardian, a police officer, the state attorney/prosecutor, or based on the judge’s own decision.  If the crime involved serious physical injury or use of a deadly weapon, the judge is supposed to issue this order even if no one requests it.***

Note:  The rest of the information on our site about protective orders (such as who is eligible, what the steps are for getting one, etc.) refers to temporary and permanent protective orders; not this magistrate's order.

* Texas C.C.P Art. 17.292(a)
** Texas C.C.P Art. 17.292(j)
*** Texas C.C.P Art. 17.292(a)&(b)

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Steps for obtaining a protective order

back to topStep 1: Go to the district attorney's office or the courthouse to file.

You will generally file your application in the county where you or the abuser lives or in any county where the abuse took place.*   However, if you have a divorce case pending or a pending case affecting the parent-child relationship, you must file for the protective order in the court in which that case is pending or in the court in the county in which you reside (and must notify the clerk of the pending case).**  

In many counties, the county or district attorney will help you file for a protective order and represent you in court.  If the prosecutor will not file on our behalf, you can file on your own, using the online pro se protective order kit.  While these forms are legally valid in all courts, some counties prefer their own forms.  However, if at all possible, you may want to first contact the legal advocate at your local family violence program to get information about where and how to file in your county since the process varies by county.  A legal advocate can explain your county’s process and may be able to assist you in completing the tool kit’s forms.   To find the courthouse in your area or the district attorney's office, go to TX Courthouse Locations.   

Please note that the steps listed below vary from county to county.  These instructions are meant as a general guide and do not reflect county-specific procedures. As mentioned earlier, if possible, you might consider first going to your local domestic violence organization or prosecutor's office, to find out how to get a protective order in your county.  

* Tex. Fam. Code § 82.003
** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.062(a),(b)

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back to topStep 2: Fill out the forms.

Carefully fill out the application.  When you apply for a protective order, you must supply the following information:

  1. The name of each petitioner (victim) and the county where each petitioner (victim) resides; (Note: You can request that your children be included as petitioners, but it may not be ordered if there was no violence against the children);
  2. The name, address, and county of residence of each individual who has committed family violence;
  3. The relationship between the victim(s) and the abuser;
  4. A request for one or more protective orders;
  5. If you are receiving services from the state child support division, you must indicate this and give the case number (if you know it) for each open case.*

Read the application carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand something.  Describe in detail how the abuser (respondent) injured or threatened you.  If you are using the pro se protective order toolkit online, TexasLawHelp.org has an available chat function at certain hours during the week so you can ask an attorney questions about the forms.  Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred.  Write about the most recent and severe incidents of violence, using descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Be specific.  Include details and dates that relate to the abuser’s violence and threats, if possible.  If you are in immediate danger and want to apply for a temporary ex parte order, you must include a detailed description of the facts and circumstances concerning the family violence and the need for the immediate protective order.

You must sign the application under oath that the facts and circumstances contained in the application are true to the best of your knowledge.  However, do not sign the application until you have shown it to a clerk.  The form must be signed in front of a notary public or a judge at the courthouse.  Be aware that once you file the documents, they become public record, and are accessible by the respondent and his/her attorney.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 82.004

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back to topStep 3: A judge will review your petition.

The judge may wish to ask you questions as s/he reviews your petition. If you are applying for a temporary ex parte order, a judge will decide whether there is an immediate danger that the abuser will commit family violence based on the facts included in your application.  If so, you may get a temporary order that usually lasts up to 20 days.  Before getting a permanent order, you need to have a full court hearing where the abuser has the opportunity to be present and both you and the abuser have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony.

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back to topStep 4: Service of process

The clerk of the court will issue a Notice of an Application for a Protective Order.  The clerk will generally arrange for service of this notice to the abuser along with the petition that you filed as well as any temporary ex parte orders that were issued.  This notice states that the abuser has been accused of committing family violence.  The abuser may get an attorney to defend himself/herself against this allegation.  The notice also informs the abuser of the hearing date.

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back to topStep 5: The hearing for a permanent protective order

It is very important that you attend the court hearing.  If you find out you absolutely cannot attend, you can contact the court clerk immediately and ask how you can get a "continuance" for a later court date.*  If you do not show up, the judge may dismiss your case and you will lose your protective order.  You do not need an attorney at the hearing; however, having an attorney can be to your advantage.  Also, if you think the respondent will have one or if it would make you feel safer, you can consider getting one.  If the prosecutor files the protective order on your behalf, s/he will usually represent you in court.   If the prosecutor is not filing on your behalf, you may be able to get free legal representation through a legal services program.  Go to our TX Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.  Also, your local family violence program can give you more information about what to expect at the hearing, and may be able to send an advocate with you for support, and provide an attorney referral.  Go to our TX State and Local Programs page for organizations in your area.

For the judge to grant a permanent protective order, the judge has to believe that it is more likely than not (more than 50% chance) that the abuser:

If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge can still grant you a protective order or the judge may order a new hearing date.***

See the Preparing Your Case page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.

* See Tex. Fam. Code § 84.001
** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.001(a)
*** See Tex. Fam. Code § 82.041(b)

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After the hearing

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

Here are some things you may want to consider doing.  However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Ask the clerk for several free, certified copies.*  You can make additional copies as well, if needed.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • You might want to 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.  (Note: If the order prohibits the abuser from going near your child’s school or daycare, the clerk is supposed to send the order directly to the daycare or school.  If child support is ordered, the clerk should send it to the child support division of the Office of the Attorney General.  If the abuser is in the military, the clerk is supposed to send it directly to the military base/installation.  The clerk is also supposed to send a copy to law enforcement in the municipality/county in which you live.)**
  • You might want to give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • Give a photo and/or description of your partner and his vehicle to anyone you gave a copy of the order to.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 81.002(2)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.042(a),(a-1),(b)

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

An abuser can violate a protective order by disobeying any of the restrictions in the order.  For example, s/he can violate the restriction:

  • not to come near you or a place specified in the order;
  • not to abuse you;
  • to contact you directly or through a third party (however, contacting you through your attorney can be permissible); 
  • against possessing a firearm;
  • not to harm, threaten, or interfere with the care, custody, or control of a pet or companion animal a person protected by the order; or
  • not to remove, attempt to remove, or otherwise tamper with the normal functioning of a global positioning monitoring system (GPS).*

If you believe that the abuser has violated the protective order, you can immediately call 911 and the abuser can be arrested.  Under Texas law, a law enforcement officer must arrest the abuser if the officer witnesses a protective order violation, and may arrest the abuser if the order is violated outside of the officer’s presence.**

Protective orders will have certain warnings written right on the order.  Both temporary ex parte orders and permanent protective orders state that a violation of the order can be considered "contempt of court" with a punishment of up to $500, a jail sentence of up to 6 months, or both.  The orders also state that if a person commits an "act" that is forbidden in the order, s/he can be punished by a fine of up to $4,000, a jail sentence up to 1 year, or both.  If the "act" committed results in family violence, the abuser can be prosecuted separately for that crime.  If s/he commits a felony, s/he can be sentenced to prison for at least two years.*** 

When the police arrive, it is usually a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case.  Make sure a police report is filled out, even if no arrest is made.  If you have legal documentation of all violations of the order, it could help you have the order extended or modified in the future.

* Tex. Penal Code § 25.07(a)
** Tex. C.C.P. Art. 14.03(a)(3),(b)
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 85.026

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

Federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have an protective order, it is enforceable, or it can protect you, wherever you go in the United States, including U.S. territories and tribal lands.

Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state orders.  You can find out about your new state's policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your new area.

You might also want to call the court where you originally received the order to tell them your new address so that they can contact you if necessary.  However, before giving out an address that you don't want the abuser to have, be sure to ask the clerk if there is a way to keep it confidential and confirm that it will not be accessible to the abuser.

To read more information please see our Moving to Another State with a Texas Protective Order section.

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back to topHow can I modify (change) my protective order?

If you want to change the order to add a specific protection to it or to take something out of the order, you can file to modify the order.  The abuser can also file to modify the order.  The judge would hold a hearing to decide what changes to make.*  You will have to go back to the court where you originally filed your application and tell the clerk you want to change your order.  You will find links to online forms that you may need at our TX Download Court Forms page.  Also, you can update any information listed on the order such as your address, telephone number, place of employment, or the child-care facility or school of a child protected by the order if any of this changes after you get the order.**

* Tex. Fam. Code § 87.001
** Tex. Fam. Code § 87.004(a)

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back to topCan I extend or renew my protective order? What if the order already expired?

Automatic extension
If the abuser is in jail or prison when the order is set to expire or if s/he was released from jail/prison within the one year before the order’s expiration date, the order will automatically be extended.  If the abuser was sentenced to more than 5 years of incarceration, the order will expire on the first anniversary of the date s/he is released from imprisonment.  If the abuser was sentenced to 5 years or less of incarceration, the order will expire on the second anniversary of the date s/he is released from imprisonment.*  You can request a new order from the court showing the extended expiration date to make it easier to enforce in case of a violation. 

Filing to renew a current order or an expired order
If the abuser violates the order while the order is still valid, this violation could be a reason to renew the order.  You can file for the renewed protective order within the last 30 days of the order (within 30 days before the order's expiration date).  You will have to include with your application:

  • a copy of the current protective order (or if a copy is not available, you will have to file a copy before the hearing date) and
  • a description of what the abuser did to make you reasonably fear immediate physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.** 

If your current order has already expired, you can file for a new protective order if:

  • s/he violated the order before it expired and you didn't already get a new family violence protective order based on that violation; or
  • the abuser has done something new to reasonably place you in fear of immediate physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.***

You will need to attach a copy of the expired protective order to your new application (or if you don't have a copy available, you will have to file it before the hearing date) and you will have to go through all of the steps of originally filing for an order.

* Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(c)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 82.0085
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 82.008

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