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Know the Laws: Washington

UPDATED August 10, 2017

Domestic Violence Orders for Protection (DVOP)

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A domestic violence order of protection is a civil order that provides protection from harm by a family or household member.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic violence in Washington?

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

Domestic violence is when one or more of the following things occur between family or household members:

  • physical harm;
  • bodily injury;
  • assault;
  • sexual assault;
  • stalking (as defined in R.C.W. § 9A.46.110); or
  • making you fear immediate physical harm, bodily injury or assault.*
This definition includes many types of abusive behaviors, such as pushing, hitting, slapping, biting, choking, and other conduct that causes you harm or puts you in fear of being hurt.

* R.C.W. § 26.50.010(1)

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back to topWhat is a domestic violence order for protection?

A domestic violence order for protection is a paper which is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences.  It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence, regardless of gender.

The Washington courts publish additional information on domestic violence orders of protection.

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

There are two types of domestic violence orders for protection in Washington:

Ex parte temporary order for protection.
An ex parte temporary order for protection is designed to protect you until the court hearing for a final order for protection.  When you file your application for a temporary order for protection, the judge will hold a hearing either in person or by telephone where you will tell the judge why you need the order for protection.  (The abuser will not have notice of this hearing or be present, which is what is meant by the term “ex parte.”)  The hearing will be either on the day the petition is filed or the following day that court is in session.*  A judge will grant the temporary order only if s/he believes that you are in immediate danger of a severe injury.*1

Temporary orders last for a fixed period of up to 14 days.  If the court permits service of the abuser by publication or mail, the order will last for a fixed period up to 24 days.*2

Your ex parte temporary order should clearly state the expiration date.*3

Final order for protection.
A final order for protection can be issued only after a court hearing in which you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story, present evidence, witnesses, etc.  The hearing will be no more than 14 days from the date you got your temporary order or no more than 24 days if the abuser was notified by publication or mail.*2

Generally, the order for protection can be for a fixed period (specific amount of time) or permanent (forever).  If it only lasts for a fixed period, you can ask to have it renewed.*4

Note: If the judge included in the order that the abuser cannot contact his/her minor children, then that part of the order for protection can only last up to one year (but you can apply to renew that part of the order at the end of the one-year period).*4  To get more information about renewing your order, please see How do I change or extend my order for protection?

For information on other types of orders available in Washington, see What other types of orders may help me?

* R.C.W. § 26.50.070(3)
*1 R.C.W. § 26.50.070(1)
*2 R.C.W. § 26.50.070(4)
*3 R.C.W. § 26.50.070(5)
*4 R.C.W. § 26.50.060(2), (3)

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back to topHow can a domestic violence order for protection help me?

In a temporary, ex parte domestic violence order of protection, the judge can order the following relief:

  • order the abuser not commit acts of domestic violence against you;
  • order the abuser to stay away from your residence (either shared with the abuser or your own), work, school or from the school or day care of your child;
  • prohibit the abuser from coming within a certain distance from a specific location;
  • order the abuser to not interfere with your custody of the minor children or remove the children from the jurisdiction of the court;
  • order the abuser not to contact you or your children or members of your household;
  • order the abuser not to harass you, follow you, keep you under physical or electronic surveillance, or cyberstalk you;
  • order the abuser not to use telephonic, audiovisual, or other electronic means to monitor the actions, location, or communication of you, your children, or members of your household; and
  • require the abuser to surrender his/her firearms if certain conditions are met.*  Note: You can read about the conditions that must be met for the judge to order the firearm removed on our WA Statutes page in section (1) of RCW 9.41.800.

As part of a final domestic violence order of protection, the judge can order the following relief:

  • order the abuser not commit acts of domestic violence against you;
  • order the abuser not to harass you, follow you, keep you under physical or electronic surveillance, or cyberstalk you;
  • order the abuser not to use telephonic, audiovisual, or other electronic means to monitor the actions, location, or communication of you, your children, or members of your household;
  • remove the abuser from the home that you share;
  • order the abuser to stay away from your residence, work, school or from the school or day care of your child;
  • prohibit the abuser from coming within a certain distance from a specific location;
  • order the abuser not to contact you or your children or members of the your household;
  • give one parent temporary custody of children;
  • set a schedule for visitation with minor children;
  • grant you possession of essential personal items including pets; (Note: You can get sole custody or control of any pet owned by you, the respondent, or your child.  The abuser can also be prohibited from coming within a specific distance or to specific locations where the pet is regularly found); 
  • grant you use of a vehicle;
  • order the abuser to pay administrative court costs and service fees, and to reimburse you for costs incurred in bringing the action (such as reasonable attorney's fees);
  • order the abuser to participate in a batterers' treatment program;
  • require the respondent to submit to electronic monitoring;
  • require the abuser to surrender his/her firearms if certain conditions are met (Note: You can read about the conditions that must be met for the judge to order the firearm removed on our WA Statutes page in section (1) of RCW 9.41.800.); and
  • order any other relief that the judge believes is necessary for your protection and the protection of your family or household members.**

Whether or not a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

Note: A domestic violence protection order cannot:

  • order child support;
  • order maintenance (alimony);
  • assign most property to either party; or
  • establish permanent child custody.***

* R.C.W.  § 26.50.070(1)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.060(1)
*** Washington Courts website

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

You can file a petition in the county or municipality where you live.  If you’ve moved to avoid further abuse, you can file the petition in the county or municipality where you lived previously, or in the county or municipality where you’re currently staying.*  However, if you are trying to keep your address confidential, filing in the county where you have fled to would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.

* R.C.W. § 26.50.020(6)

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Who can get a domestic violence order for protection

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

If you are 16 or older, you are eligible to file for a domestic violence order for protection if you or your minor child have been the victim of domestic violence (as defined by law) at the hands of:

  • your spouse or former spouse;
  • your domestic partner or former domestic partner (including same-sex couples);
  • someone you have a child in common with - it doesn’t matter if you have ever lived together or been married;
  • adult persons related to you by blood or marriage;
  • adult persons residing with you now or who have resided with you in the past;
  • someone you are having or had a dating relationship with - it doesn't matter if you ever lived together or not; (Note: the abuser must be at least 16) or
  • someone who has a biological or legal parent-child relationship with you, including step-parents and step-children and grandparents and grandchildren.*

If you are between the ages of 13 and 16, you can file against any of the family or household members listed above.  However, to file against someone you have/had a dating relationship with, you must show that you  have been the "victim of violence in a dating relationship" and the abuser is at least 16 years old.**  If you do not meet these requirements, there may be another order that applies to your situation.  Go to our Civil Anti-Harassment Orders page, Sexual Assault Protection Orders and Stalking Protection Orders page for more information.

If someone other than one of these people is hurting you, there are other petitions that you may be eligible to file for protection against violence.  See What other types of orders may help me?

Note: If you are 16 or older, you can file for an order for protection on your own, without permission from an adult.  If you are under 16, you will need a parent, guardian, guardian ad litem or "next friend" to file for you.  A "next friend" is anyone over 18 years of age, chosen by the minor who is able to pursue the court case for the minor and state his/her wishes in court.***

* R.C.W. § 26.50.010(2)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.020(1)
*** R.C.W. § 26.50.020(8)

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

In Washington, you may apply for a domestic violence order for protection 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 domestic violence order for protection?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic violence, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Washington?

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

Nothing.  There is no filing fee for a domestic violence order for protection.

You do not need a lawyer to file for an order for protection.  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 WA Finding a Lawyer page.  Domestic violence organizations in your area may also be able to help you through the legal process and may have lawyer referrals.*

* R.C.W. § 20.50.040

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back to topWhat other types of orders may help me?

Restraining Order
A restraining order is filed as part of a divorce case, a paternity case, or other family law case.  This is broader than a domestic violence protection order, since it can also deal with property issues, child support, or spousal support.  If you are concerned about preventing the abuser from getting rid of your assets during your separation, you might contact an attorney to see about getting a restraining order.*

No Contact Order
This order is intended to protect you if the abuser is in the process of a criminal case.  The judge will decide whether or not to issue this order when s/he decides if the abuser is to be released on bail or personal recognizance, or when the abuser is formally charged or being sentenced.  Generally this order does not last as long as an order of protection.  It does not award custody, establish visitation, or order counseling.**

You may also be able to file for a Sexual Assault Protection Order, Stalking Protection Order, or a Civil Anti-Harassment Order.

* R.C.W. § 7.40.020
** R.C.W. § 10.99.050

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Steps for getting a domestic violence order of protection

back to topStep 1: Get and fill out the necessary forms

To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a domestic violence order for protection.

You can find 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 shelter.   Write about the incidents of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Include details and dates, if possible.  Clerks can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.  Note: Remember to bring photo ID and do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk.  The clerk may be able to notarize the forms for you.

You will need to provide a safe mailing address. If you are staying at a shelter, you may want to give a P.O. Box, not the street address.  If you do not have a safe address, do not fill it out - ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.

You will find links to forms online on our WA Download Court Forms page.  Most shelters and other domestic violence prevention organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court.  Go to WA State and Local Programs to find an organization in your area and to find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on WA Courthouse Locations.

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back to topStep 2: Ex parte hearing

If you are in immediate danger and requested a temporary order, the judge or commissioner will hold an ex parte hearing in person or by telephone.*  The abuser does not have to be with you or be told you are asking the judge for a temporary order for protection.

After the ex parte hearing, if you were granted a temporary order, the clerk will file the signed temporary order and make copies.  Remember that you may need additional copies for schools, daycare, and your place of employment.

If you received a temporary order, keep a copy of it with you at all times.

Whether the judge grants you a temporary order or not, you may be given a court date for a court hearing on your petition for a final domestic violence restraining order within 14 days (assuming your petition is not dismissed).**  This hearing will be in front of a judge at a time shown on the notice of hearing.  The notice of hearing is the document that tells the respondent where and when to appear for the court hearing.  At this hearing, the abuser and you will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge, present evidence and witnesses, etc.

* R.C.W. § 26.50.070(3)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.050

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back to topStep 3: Service of process

The respondent must be "served" or given notice of the hearing five business days prior to the hearing.  If the respondent has not been served in time, the hearing will be rescheduled.  In that situation, the judge should reissue the temporary order and allow you to attempt to have the respondent served again.  If you are unable to have the respondent served after two attempts, the judge may allow you to serve the respondent by mail or by publication unless you request another chance to serve the respondent.*  If the respondent was served but does not show up at the hearing, the hearing can proceed without the respondent.

The clerk will send the law enforcement office a copy of the petition for the order for protection and a copy of the temporary order (if you were granted one) to serve the respondent.  A return of service form and a Law Enforcement Information Sheet will also be included for law enforcement's use.  Any adult 18 or over, other than you, can serve the papers.  However, people usually want a law enforcement officer to serve the papers, since there could be a dangerous situation.  The court may order the law enforcement agency where the respondent resides to serve the papers.  Do not attempt to serve the papers to the abuser yourself.

* R.C.W. § 26.50.050

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back to topStep 4: Sorting out the paperwork

The clerk will send a copy of the temporary order and the Law Enforcement Information sheet to the police station where you live so it can be entered into the statewide law enforcement computer system.  This is to assure your order can be enforced by the police or sheriff.  The Law Enforcement Information Sheet will not be given to or shown to the respondent.*

The order for protection or a reissued temporary order must be filed with the clerk.  The clerk will make copies for you to take.  When you leave the court, you should have the following papers:

  • copy of the petition for an order for protection;
  • the original completed Law Enforcement Information Sheet; and
  • at least one certified copy of the temporary order. (You may want to carry one copy with you at all times. You also may want extra copies to keep in a safe place so there will be a copy available to show police in case of a violation.)

* Law Enforcement Information Sheet

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back to topStep 5: Full court hearing

If you want to get a final order, you must go to the hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over.  If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the courthouse and ask how to request a continuance over the phone, if that is possible.

You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer.  You can also represent yourself if you choose to or if you cannot find a lawyer.  For tips on representing yourself, go to our Preparing your Case page.  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 WA 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?

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.
  • Make several copies of the order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the childrens 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.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

One week after court, you may want to call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received the order for protection from the clerk.

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 orders for protection, 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 domestic violence order for protection. What are my options?

If you are not granted a domestic violence order for protection, there are still some things you can do to try 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 may be able to 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 resources in Washington on our WA Where to Find Help page.

If you were not granted a domestic violence order for protection because your relationship with the abuser or the type of abuse you experienced does not qualify under the law, you may be able to seek protection through one of these orders:

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

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to someone at a domestic violence organization or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal.  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 if the abuser violates the order?

Violating an order for protection is against the law.  There are two ways to get help if the abuser violates the order.

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

You can also seek justice through the criminal justice system by reporting the abuser to the police.  Violation of an order of protection can be a "gross misdemeanor," which is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to 364 days, a fine o up to $5,000, or both.  In certain cases, such as where there have been prior violations of orders of protection or if the abuser commits an assault when violating the order, it can be a class c felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.*

A violation of either of the following two provisions subjects the respondent to a mandatory arrest:

  • Violating the part of the order that says "do not cause or threaten domestic violence;" or
  • Entering a residence, workplace, school, daycare of children, or other areas the judge has ordered the respondent to vacate or stay away from.**

Note: It is important to note that arrest is mandatory on domestic violence calls even without an existing protection order if the officer has probable cause to believe the abuser (who is 16 years old or older) committed an assault within the preceding four hours.***  To read more information about what type of assault must have been committed, you can read the law on our WA Statutes page, section 10.31.100(2)(c).

* R.C.W. §§ 26.50.110(1)(a),(4),(5); 9A.20.021(1)(c),(2)
** R.C.W. § 10.31.100(2) 
*** R.C.W. § 10.31.100(2)(c)

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back to topCan I file a motion to change or terminate my order for protection?

Yes.  To modify (change) your order, go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk.  The judge can modify or terminate (end) a protection order if you (or the abuser) files a motion asking for the judge to do so.*

If you file a motion asking the judge to modify or terminate your order, the respondent must be personally served with your motion and notice of the hearing at least 5 days before the court date unless the judge has allowed the abuser to be served by publication or by mail. Then there will be a hearing where the judge will hear from both sides and will decide whether or not to give you what you requested.**

* R.C.W. § 26.50.130(1)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.130(5),(7)

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back to topCan the abuser file a motion to change or terminate my order for protection?

Yes.  If the abuser files a motion to modify or terminate a domestic violence order for protection that is permanent or that lasts for more than two years, s/he must include facts and circumstances explaining the request for changing or ending the order in what is called a “declaration.”  You must be personally served with the respondent’s motion and declaration at least 5 days before the hearing.  You will then have the option to file a response, known as an “opposing declaration.”  The judge will read both declarations and decide (based on what s/he reads) if there is “adequate cause” (enough of a reason) to schedule a hearing.  If the judge decides that there is adequate cause, the judge will hold a hearing during which both sides will present evidence and testimony and the judge will decide if s/he is going to modify or terminate the order in the way the abuser requested.  If the judge decides there is no adequate cause, the judge will dismiss the respondent’s motion and will deny his/her request.*

If the motion that the respondent filed was to modify the order, s/he has to prove that the changes are necessary and justified.  If the abuser is asking to modify the order by making it shorter, or taking away a part of the order that tells him/her to not harass, stalk, threaten, or commit other acts of domestic violence against you or anyone protected by the order, the judge has to consider the factors listed in What factors will a judge consider when deciding whether or not to terminate my permanent or long-term order for protection? when deciding.**

If the motion that the respondent filed was to terminate the order and the judge schedules a hearing, the respondent must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued, which makes it unlikely that the respondent would commit future acts of domestic violence against you or anyone else protected in the order.

It is important to know that for either a request to modify or terminate, you do not have to prove that you have a current, reasonable fear of immediate harm by the respondent to keep the order.***  For more information, see What factors will a judge consider when deciding whether or not to terminate my permanent or long-term order for protection?

* R.C.W. § 26.50.130 (2),(7)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.130(4)
*** R.C.W. § 26.50.130(3)(a),(4)

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back to topWhat factors will a judge consider when deciding whether or not to terminate my permanent or long-term order for protection?

If you have an order for protection that is permanent or that lasts for more than two years and the respondent files to terminate the order, the judge will decide whether or not to dismiss the request based on what is written in the respondent’s declaration and in your opposing declaration or whether or not to schedule a hearing.  (You can read more about this process in Can the abuser file a motion to change or terminate my order for protection?)  If the judge holds a hearing, the respondent must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued, which makes it unlikely that the respondent would commit future acts of domestic violence against you or anyone else protected in the order. The judge will consider the following factors when considering if there has been a substantial change in circumstances:

  1. Whether or not the abuser has done any of the following:
    • committed or threatened domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other violent acts since the order for protection was entered; violated the order for protection, and the time that has passed since the order was issued;
    • expressed a desire to commit suicide or has attempted suicide since the order for protection was entered;
    • been convicted of a crime since the order for protection was entered;
    • either accepted responsibility for the acts of domestic violence that are the basis for the order for protection or successfully completed domestic violence perpetrator treatment or counseling since the order for protection
    • is abusing alcohol or drugs, if alcohol or drug abuse was a factor in the order for protection;
  2. Whether or not you agree with the abuser’s request to terminate the order for protection, provided that your consent is given voluntarily and knowingly;
  3. If you or the abuser has relocated to an area more distant from the other party; Note: The judge must still consider the fact that domestic violence can be committed from any distance; and
  4. Other factors relating to a substantial change in circumstances.*

Note: The judge cannot make his/her decision based only on the fact that: 1) time has passed without a violation of the order; or 2) you or the abuser has relocated to an area more distant from the other party.  Also, even if the abuser proves that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the judge can still deny the request to terminate the order if the domestic violence that caused you to get the order for protection was so severe that the judge believes that the order should not be terminated.**

* R.C.W. § 26.50.130(3)(a),(b),(c)
** R.C.W. § 26.50.130(3)(d),(e)

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back to topHow do I extend my order for protection?

To extend/ renew your order, you must file a “petition for renewal” at any time within 3 months before the order expires.  Your petition should state the reasons that you want to renew the protection order.  If the abuser violated the order in any way, you could mention this in your petition as well.  The judge is supposed to renew your order unless the abuser can prove to the judge that s/he will not commit acts of domestic violence against you, your children, or your family or household members once the order expires.

The court will schedule a hearing for no more than 14 days from the date it receives your petition (or 24 days if the abuser is going to be notified by mail or publication).  The abuser must be notified at least 5 days before the hearing.  A judge may extend your order by granting a renewal for a fixed time period or may enter a permanent order.*

* R.C.W. § 26.50.060(3)

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

Your order is valid throughout the state of Washington.  If you move to another part of the state, you may want to bring a copy of your order to the police department in your new area.  It also may be a good idea to call the clerk at the courthouse where you got your order to change your address but if your address is confidential, be sure to ask the clerk what steps you need to take to make sure that the address is listed as confidential in the court records.

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.  You can find out about your state's policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your area.

If you are moving out of state, you can call a domestic violence program in the state where you are going to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders.  Please see our Moving to Another State with Your Domestic Violence Order of Protection section for more information.  You may also want to call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111, ext. 2) for information on enforcing your order there.

Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

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