Know the Laws: Virginia
UPDATED October 2, 2012
A family abuse protective order is a civil court order that is designed to stop violent behavior and keep your abuser away from you.
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. Also, advocates at local domestic violence organizations can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support. To find a shetler or advocate in your area please visit the VA State and Local Programs page.
If you are not granted a protective order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe. It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you come up with a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need. You will find a list of resources on our VA Where to Find Help page. You can also find safety planning tips on our Staying Safe page.
You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if you have new evidence to show the court that domestic violence did occur, or if a new incident of domestic violence occurs after you are denied the order.
You can call the police, even if you think it is a minor violation. It can be a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order in any way. The abuser can be arrested, fined and even jailed for violating the protective order. It can be a Class 1 misdemeanor when s/he violates the part of the order that prohibits the abuser from:
It can be a Class 6 felony crime if the abuser enters your home while you are there, if s/he causes injury, if it is the second or third time s/he violates the order, etc.* To read all of the possible ways that a violation can be a felony, please go to our VA Statutes page.
It is 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. You should also make sure the police or sheriff write a report on the incident even if the abuser is not arrested --- this is required under Virginia law.** The report could be valuable documentation if you try to modify or extend your order.
In addition to calling the police, if you want criminal charges to be pressed, you will most likely need to file the charges with the Magistrate's office (in a few counties, you can go through the Commonwealth Attorney's office).
* VA ST § 16.1-253.2
** VA ST § 19.2-81.3(D)
Only a judge can modify a protective order. If you or the abuser wish to change the terms of the order, a "Request to Modify" can be filed. If you wish to cancel the order, a "Motion to Dismiss" can be filed. The court may be less willing to offer you its protection in the future if you have an order dismissed (canceled).
If you want to extend the order, a new law that passed in 2010 now allows orders to be extended. You can file a "Motion requesting a hearing to extend the order." This must be filed before your protective order expires. Proceedings to extend a protective order are supposed to be given high priority by the court. If you were a member of the respondent's family or household at the time the initial protective order was issued, the court may extend your protective order for a period of up to two years to protect the health and safety of the you or your current family or household member(s). You can file to extend your order more than once.*
For any of the above motions that are filed, the court will set a date for a hearing and the abuser will be served with a copy of the motion and a request to be present. You must attend this hearing and tell the judge why the change, extension, or dissolution (cancellation) is necessary.
* Va. Code § 16.1-279.1(B)
Your order is valid and enforceable wherever you go throughout Virginia.
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 have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders.
If you are moving out of state, please check the Restraining Order pages for that state on this website for information on how to have your order enforced there.
Please see "Moving to Another State with a Protective Order" section for more information about moving out of VA with your protective order.
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.