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 actual or attempted occurrence of one or more of the following acts between a current or former intimate partner/household member:
- assault in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd degrees;
- rape/sodomy/sexual abuse - 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 in the 1st and 2nd degrees;
- theft, which includes taking unauthorized control or getting control through deception over property owned fully or jointly by you;
- stalking in the 1st, 2nd degrees;
- aggravated stalking in the 1st and 2nd degrees;
- unlawful imprisonment in the 1st and 2nd degrees;
- criminal trespass in the 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, also called an emergency 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 prior notice to the abuser. An emergency PFA can protect you from the time you file for the final order until your full court hearing can take place, usually takes place within 10 days. However, by law, the judge can take three business days to decide whether or not to grant you an ex parte temporary order.1
If the judge denies your request for an emergency PFA, you may still ask the judge to consider your PFA petition at a hearing where the abuser is present.
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 and tell your sides of the story to a judge. 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 and extend the emergency PFA so that it is effective until the new hearing date. Final PFAs can be permanent without an expiration date unless the judge says otherwise, or unless the order is later changed (modified).2
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, such as through another person;
- stop committing or threatening any conduct that puts you or your children in reasonable 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;
- 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;
- possession of a car and 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 you, your children, and other family or household members.1
In a permanent protection from abuse order, a judge can:
- grant all of the protections of the emergency (ex parte) order listed above; and
- make the following additional orders:
- give you possession of the family home and have the abuser evicted from the home – or, if both parties consent, the abuser can provide “suitable alternate housing” if the abuser has a duty to support you or your children;
- child support and spousal support;
- make the abuser pay your attorney’s fees and court costs;
- let the abuser have supervised or unsupervised visitation with the child(ren), if appropriate, or deny visitation;
- give you temporary possession of the car if:
- you have no other transportation of your own; and
- the abuser has more than one car or has alternate transportation.2
Note: Although the law doesn’t specifically allow the judge to include firearm prohibition in the terms of the order, Alabama state law does make firearm possession illegal for anyone who is subject to a valid protection order for domestic abuse, issued after notice and a hearing; so, not an ex parte temporary order.3
In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states and territories, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun if you have a final restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-7(b)
2 Ala. Code § 30-5-7(c)
3 Ala. Code § 13A-11-72(a), (h)(8)
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.