What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Alabama?
You can file for an order if you are the victim of domestic abuse, as defined below, or if you have reasonable cause to believe that you are in immediate danger of becoming the victim of any act of abuse.1 Alabama law defines “domestic abuse” for the purpose of getting a protection from abuse order as the occurrence (actual or attempted) of one or more of the following acts between a current or former intimate partner/household member:
- assault (1st, 2nd, 3rd degrees);
- rape/sodomy/sexual abuse (see here, scroll to “Article 4. Sexual Offenses” to read all of the crimes included);
- criminal coercion;
- reckless endangerment;
- child abuse, torture or willful abuse of a child, aggravated child abuse, or chemical endangerment of a child;
- kidnapping (1st and 2nd degrees);
- theft (includes taking unauthorized control or getting control through deception over property owned fully or jointly by you);
- stalking (1st, 2nd degrees; aggravated stalking);
- unlawful imprisonment - restraining you against your will (1st and 2nd degrees);
- criminal trespass (1st, 2nd, 3rd degrees);1 or
- any other crime against you.2
You will notice that the petition for a PFA doesn’t include “harassment” as a box to check off - however, if you read the legal definition of harassment, you can see how else you may be able to indicate harassment in one of the available check boxes on the petition.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-5(a)(1)
2 Ala. Code § 30-5-2(1)(a)-(i), (1)(k)-(o)
3 Ala. Code § 30-5-2(1)(j)
What types of protection from abuse (PFA) orders are there? How long do they last?
There are two types of orders:
Temporary (ex parte) protection from abuse orders.
You can get a temporary ex parte protection order if the judge believes it is necessary to protect you or your children from abuse, or from the immediate and present danger of abuse. You can get an emergency PFA without having to go through a full court hearing. An emergency PFA can protect you from the time you file for the final order until your full court hearing can take place. (However, by law, the judge can take three business days to decide whether or not to grant you an ex parte temporary order.) The full court hearing usually takes place within 10 days of your filing date.1
The advantage of an emergency PFA is that you can get one without the abuser present (known as an ex parte order). You can apply for an emergency PFA by going to the circuit court clerk in the county courthouse in your area. In some counties, you may be required to go to family court or domestic relations court. Tell the clerk you want to apply for an emergency PFA. You must complete the application form and you may be required to see a judge and explain why you need protection.
If the judge denies your request for an emergency PFA, you may still ask the judge to consider your PFA petition through the full court hearing process. At the hearing, you would have a chance to present evidence and witnesses to prove that you were abused and the abuser has a chance to present the same to prove you were not abused.
Final protection from abuse orders.
A final PFA can be issued at a hearing where the abuser is given notice of the hearing and has the right to be present. At the hearing, both you and the abuser present evidence (tell your sides of the story) to a judge. Final PFAs can be permanent (have no expiration date) unless the judge says otherwise or the order is later modified (changed).2
Once the hearing date is set for the final PFA, you must attend that hearing or else your temporary order may expire and you will have to start the process over. If the abuser does not show up to that hearing, the judge may grant a final PFA or s/he may set a new hearing date. If the judge sets a new hearing date, and you had an emergency PFA, make sure the judge extends the emergency PFA so that it is effective until the new hearing date.
Note: You may also want to think about seeking shelter while going through the PFA process. You can call the Alabama Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-650-6522, or contact one of the AL Advocates and Shelters listed under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-6(a),(b)
2 Ala. Code § 30-5-7(d)(2)
What protections can I get in a protection from abuse order?
In an emergency (ex parte) protection from abuse order, a judge can:
- Order the abuser to:
- Stop committing (or threatening to commit) acts of abuse against you, your children and anyone else included in the order;
- Stop harassing, annoying, and stalking you and your children;
- Stop calling or contacting you and your children directly or indirectly (through a third party, for example);
- Stop any conduct (or threatening any conduct) that puts you or your children in reasonably fear or physical injury;
- Not have physical or violent contact with you or your property and stay at least 300 feet away from your home (even if you share the home with the abuser), from your work, from your children’s school and any other specific place that you go to often (assuming the defendant has no good reason to be there);
- Be removed from your home, regardless of who owns the home;
- Not interfere with the custody of your children and not remove the children from the state; and
- Not destroy, sell, or conceal joint property;1
- Grant you:
- Temporary custody of the children;
- Give you possession of a car and/or other personal items, regardless of ownership; (Note: You can ask for a police escort to go with you to the home to remove your children or belongings from the home); and
- Any other relief that is necessary to provide for the safety and protection of the victim, victim’s minor children and other designated family or household members.1
In a permanent protection from abuse order, a judge may order all of the protections of the emergency (ex parte) order listed above. In addition, a judge can order the abuser to:
- Give you possession (not ownership) of the family home and have the abuser evicted from the home – or, if both parties consent, the abuser can provide “suitable alternate housing.” (This protection is only available if the abuser has a duty to support you or your children - i.e., if you are married or have children together)
- Pay child support and/or spousal support
- Pay your attorney’s fees and court costs
- Have supervised or unsupervised visitation with the child(ren), if appropriate (or s/he can get no visitation)
- Provide temporary possession of the car to you if
- you have no other transportation of your own; and
- the abuser has more than one car or has alternate transportation.2
Under federal law, the abuser likely cannot have or buy a gun while a permanent PFA order is in place against him/her. To read more, please see our Federal Gun Laws page.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-7(b)
2 Ala. Code § 30-5-7(c)
In which county can I file for a PFA order?
A petition for a protection from abuse order may be filed in any of the following counties:
- Where you live;
- Where the abuser lives;
- Where you are temporarily staying if you left your residence to get away from the abuser; or
- Where a civil court case is pending between you and the abuser.1
Note: if you have left the home and want to keep the address where you are staying confidential, filing in that county would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-3(c)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.