Step 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 or you will find links to forms online on our 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 while in court. Go to TN Advocates and Shelters to find an organization in your area.
Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms.
On the court paperwork, 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, such as 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.1 A judge can grant you a temporary protection order if you or your child is in immediate danger or for other “good cause.”2 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.
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.
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.
1 TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(1)
2 TN ST § 36-3-605(a)
Step 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.1
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.1
1 TN ST 36-3-605(a), (b)
Step 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.1 There is no fee for service of an order of protection.2
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.
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
1 TN ST § 36-3-605(c)
2 TN ST § 36-3-617(a)(1)
Step 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. 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. At the hearing, both you and the abuser will have a chance to provide testimony, witnesses, and other evidence to prove your case. Then, the judge will decide whether or not to give you your extended protection order. 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.