Step 1: Go to court to get the petition.
As soon as possible after the abuse occurs, go to the County courthouse where you live, where the abuser lives, or where a civil case is currently pending between you and the abuser to get your petition.1 If your county has a Family Court, go to the Family Court clerk (usually in the divorce division). You can obtain a petition during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. To find the courthouse address that you need, go to our AL Courthouse Locations page.
At the courthouse, tell the clerk of court that you want to file a petition for a protection from abuse order. If you are in immediate danger, tell the clerk you also want an emergency (ex parte) order. The clerk will give you the forms. You will also find links to forms online at our AL Download Court Forms page.
Note: Remember to bring photo ID so that you can show it to the clerk when you have to sign your petition in front of the notary. It may also be helpful to have some information about the abuser including:
- a description and plate number of the abuser’s car;
- his/her history of drugs or gun ownership;
- addresses/phone numbers of the abuser’s residence and employment;
- a copy of any other court papers if there is another relevant court case/order involving you and the abuser;
- the date and place of your marriage, divorce, or separation (if you are the spouse or ex-spouse of your abuser); and
- a photo (for law enforcement to identify him/her when serving the petition).
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-3(c)
Step 2: Fill out the necessary forms and file them with the clerk.
The clerk will provide you with the forms that you need to file. Read the protection from abuse petition carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand something.
On the petition, you will be the “plaintiff” and the abuser will be the “defendant.” Write about the most recent incidents of violence, using descriptive language (i.e., words like “slapping,” “hitting,” “grabbing,” “threatening,” “choking,” etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Be specific. You can also include some of the history of abuse and information on any previous, related court action you have taken against the abuser.
Remember to write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a post office box, not a street address. If the abuser does not know the locations of your residence and employment, be sure to tell the clerk you want your home, work, and other addresses to remain confidential.
If you need assistance filling out the form, ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you. You can also call the AL Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-650-6522 for information on getting help with the PFA process. Another option is to find help through one of the domestic violence organizations listed on our AL Advocates and Shelters page.
Note: Once you have completed your paperwork, return them to the clerk. Be sure to wait to sign the forms in front of the court clerk, where you will have to show photo ID.
Step 3: Go in front of the judge (the ex parte hearing).
The entire file is brought before a judge for your ex parte hearing. At this hearing, the judge will read your petition and may ask you questions about why you need protection through a PFA order. Only you are present at this hearing, not the abuser (this is what is meant by “ex parte”).
If the judge grants you an emergency PFA order, the court clerk should give you a copy of the order. Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. Be sure to keep the order with you at all times. You may want to keep copies in your car, workplace, or daycare. The judge will also set a hearing date for your final PFA order hearing.
Step 4: Service of process
The abuser must be served with the papers that tell him/her about the hearing date (called Notice of an Application for a Protection from Abuse order), a copy of the petition that you filed, and your emergency PFA (if the judge gave you one). If you are granted an emergency PFA, the clerk of court will tell you where to go to get the papers served on the abuser. The PFA order is not effective until it is served on the abuser. There is no fee for service.1
Note: Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-5(e)
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?
Step 5: The final PFA hearing
A judge will set a hearing date that is generally within 10 days of filing your petition.1 The abuser has the right to be present for this hearing. This means you may have to face him/her in court. You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your emergency PFA will expire (if you were granted one), and you will have to start the process over. If you do not show up at the hearing, it may be harder for you to get a PFA in the future.
If the abuser received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge may issue a “default judgment” and grant you a PFA against him/her anyway OR the judge may set a new hearing date. If you have an emergency PFA, make sure the judge extends it so that it remains effective until the date of your new hearing.
At the hearing, you will testify in court and you can present other evidence or witnesses to prove the abuse you have experienced. The abuser will also be allowed to testify in the hearing. The judge will make a decision after hearing all of the testimony and considering all of the evidence.
You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If you show up to court and you need more time to find a lawyer, or the abuser has a lawyer and you do not, you may ask the judge for a “continuance” to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer for yourself. If you will be representing yourself, go to our Preparing Your Case page for tips on how to prepare yourself for court. If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue or extend your emergency order (if you have one), since your original order will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.2
1 Ala. Code § 30-5-6(a)
2 Ala. Code § 30-5-6(c)