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Domestic Violence in the Military

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Domestic Violence in the Military

Domestic Violence and the Military System

Esta página contiene información básica sobre las leyes militares como se aplican a la violencia doméstica, el Programa Familiar de Abogacía, confidencialidad, el retiro de armas de fuego, y dónde puede encontrar ayuda.

Basic info and definitions

I have heard the terms “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” used by military personnel. Is there a difference?

In the military, “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” are two different terms.

Domestic abuse is used in the military as a broader term that includes all forms of relationship violence against a current or former spouse or intimate partner, including physical harm and non-physical harm, like harassment and emotional abuse. The military considers domestic abuse to be a pattern of behavior resulting in emotional/psychological abuse, economic control, sexual abuse, “spousal neglect,” and/or interference with personal liberty. “Spousal neglect” is when an adult fails to provide necessary care or assistance to a spouse who is incapable of self-care physically, emotionally, or culturally.

Domestic violence is used by the military to specifically name the offense under the United States Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), or state law that:

  • involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force or violence against a current or former spouse or intimate partner; or
  • is a violation of a lawful order, such as a military protective order (MPO) or a civil protection order (CPO) that was issued for the protection of a current or former spouse or intimate partner.1

In 2019, the UCMJ was updated to include domestic violence as a specific crime for which the accused can be prosecuted by court martial.

If your relationship with the person who is harming you does not meet any of these requirements, you could still qualify for a civil protection order (CPO) in the state where you live. Go to the Know the Laws – By State section, enter your state in the drop-down menu, and click on Restraining Orders to see if you qualify for a CPO.

1Department of Defense Directive 6400.06, sections 6.4-6.6, incorporating change 4, May 26, 2017

What is the military’s response to domestic violence, and how does it differ from the civilian response?

The program that helps families with domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect within the Department of Defense (DoD) is the Family Advocacy Program (FAP). The FAP works with key military departments and civilian agencies to:

  • prevent abuse;
  • encourage early identification of abuse and prompt reporting;
  • promote victim safety and empowerment; and
  • provide advocacy and appropriate treatment and services for affected service members and their families.

One of the main differences between the military and civilian responses to domestic violence is the authority of the commanding officer when a service member commits abuse. The commanding officer can use judicial, administrative, or other punishments to respond to the reported incident. The commander consults with the Staff Judge Advocate, which is a military lawyer, to make sure the commander is following the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Ultimately, the commander is able to determine whether to charge the service member with an offense and the appropriate punishment or discipline.

I am experiencing abuse in my relationship. How do I get help in the military system?

The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) provides clinical and non-clinical services for victims, offenders, and children impacted by domestic abuse. Services include victim advocacy, support, safety planning, offender treatment and rehabilitation, and case management services. Counseling services are available for victims who want them, upon request.

If you are a non-military victim who is being abused by a service member, you may be eligible for the full extent of the FAP services if you:

  • have a child in common with the service member;
  • live with or have lived with the service member; or
  • are or were married to the service member.

If none of these apply to you, FAP victim advocates will still provide non-military victims with basic information about how the military system works, safety planning, and offer information and referrals to help you access services offered in the civilian community.1

Every installation where families are assigned is required to have at least one victim advocate; larger installations often have several. FAP victim advocates are available to explain the range of FAP services for which you may qualify, work with you to get a military protective order, assist you with preliminary safety planning, and refer you to civilian resources, including support for getting a civil protection order (CPO) if you request one. To read more about the FAP, go to The Family Advocacy Program and Confidentiality.

1Department of Defense website, Family Advocacy Program

Where could a victim report domestic violence within the military system?

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you may report the abuse to military law enforcement, the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), a healthcare provider, or to the victim’s or abuser’s command. However, where you first report the abuse will determine if the report is “unrestricted,” which means an official investigation will take place, or if it is “restricted,” which means that an official investigation usually does not take place.

Unrestricted reports

If you first report the abuse to law enforcement and/or command, this qualifies as an unrestricted report and will result in an official investigation of the incident. Law enforcement and command are both also required to notify the FAP of the incident for a risk assessment and safety planning.

Restricted reports

If you report the abuse to the FAP and elect a restricted report, law enforcement and command will not be notified by the FAP and there will not usually be an official investigation of the allegation; there are, however, exceptions in cases of severe risk of immediate harm to the victim or another person.

Note: If you are a victims who is a military beneficiary, you have access to medical services and FAP services with both reporting options, restricted and unrestricted. Current or former spouses and intimate partners could qualify as military beneficiaries.

You may also choose to report domestic violence outside the military system. Please see your state’s page in our Know the Laws – By State section to see how the civilian justice system handles domestic violence where you live.

What are some possible punishments that a commander can bring against a service member who commits abuse?

Some options that a commander can order against a service member who has abused his/her partner are:

  • a full investigation;
  • criminal charges;
  • imprisonment;
  • discharge from service;
  • demotion;
  • forfeiture of pay; or
  • a determination that no action is warranted.

Note: If you are a service member but the abuser is not, the commander has fewer options for holding the abuser accountable, since civilian abusers are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The commander could bar the abuser from the installation, however. The commander may also encourage you to seek community legal services and remedies, such as a civil protection order (CPO), and to work with the Family Advocacy Program to plan for your safety.

What options do victims have for protection orders? What are the major differences between a military protective order and a civilian protection order?

In both the military and civilian justice systems, you can seek a protection order requiring the abuser to stay away from you, your children, your home, your workplace, your school, and to not commit any violent acts against you. Civil protection orders have different names in the various states, but the military protective orders (MPOs) are consistently called that among all the Services. You can have both an MPO and a civil protection order (CPO) at the same time.

However, the procedure for getting an MPO and a CPO and how long the orders may last are quite different in both systems. There is no “due process” for issuing an MPO, which means that the abuser does not have to be served with notice, does not have the right to a hearing, and does not have the right to testify. Therefore, the order is typically short-term. A short-term MPO may be a challenge when the parties share custody of minor children. If you are concerned for the safety of your children while you seek safety from domestic violence, be sure to work with your victim advocate to address this issue. Commanders can tailor MPOs to the specific needs of victims, and they even have the authority to order the service member to not contact your children.

If you have an MPO and you live outside the military installation, it is important to know that civilian law enforcement cannot legally enforce the MPO. Civilian law enforcement may, but are not required to, contact the service member’s command to inform them of the breach of an MPO. Civilian law enforcement can only legally enforce CPOs. See our Military Protective Orders section for more information on MPOs, including enforcement of MPOs.

If I tell someone in the military that I am experiencing abuse in my relationship, will it be kept confidential?

There are just three groups of professionals who’ve been granted the authority to keep information about domestic abuse confidential under the “restricted” reporting option. They are victim advocates, Family Advocacy Program (FAP) clinicians, and medical professionals.1 However, even those three groups of professionals must report the abuse to military law enforcement and command if they believe that it is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and immediate threat to your health or safety, or that of another person.1

You are also able to have privileged, confidential communications with a chaplain.

Making a restricted report to the FAP will still allow you to access victim advocacy services, such as safety planning, as well as medical treatment, without launching a criminal investigation or notifying command.

Reporting the incident to persons other than those mentioned above may result in a report that will not be kept confidential, which is known as an “unrestricted report.” Contacting military police or the Judge Advocate General (JAG), for example, may result in an unrestricted report. If you are concerned that your spouse/partner may learn of your seeking help for abuse, then you should first contact an FAP victim advocate, or your health care provider. They can help you consider if, when, and how to make an unrestricted report and assist you in accessing additional services.

With an unrestricted report, you or any concerned person may notify command, the FAP, or military law enforcement of an incident of abuse. Upon this report, an official command or criminal investigation of the incident will start, and you and any other victims will have access to medical and clinical services.

You may also decide to seek help outside of the military, where stricter confidentiality rules may apply. Shelters and agencies in your area can help you think through your options. To find an agency in your area, go to our Advocates and Shelters page and enter your state in the drop-down menu. Shelters near military installations are typically familiar with military and civilian policies and practices and can also help you access an FAP victim advocate if you decide to do so.

1 Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, May 26, 2017, E. 3, Restricted Reporting for Incidents of Domestic Abuse

Can victims in same-sex relationships receive help?

The Department of Defense’s eligibility criteria is the same for all individuals experiencing abuse, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Help is available to all victims who are:

  • services members;
  • the current or former spouse of a service member; or
  • the current or former intimate partner of a service member and:
    • have a child in common; or
    • live(d) together.

If I am a civilian advocate who works with victims, what do I need to know?

This section was written for WomensLaw.org by the Department of Defense (DoD):

For civilian advocates working with victims who are in the military or who are being abused by a service member, it is important to know that the DoD does not tolerate domestic violence. DoD seeks to prevent and respond to all cases of abuse through the Family Advocacy Program (FAP). An FAP is located at every military installation in the U.S. and overseas where families are assigned. However, DoD recognizes that families and individuals seeking help for abuse have the right to choose which services work best for them, including civilian programs outside of the military. DoD partners with civilian domestic violence programs and community-based advocates to protect victims, lessen the impact of abuse, and give victims a choice in their path to safety.

In the military, commanders have a broad range of authority over service members. Victims of domestic violence, whether active duty or civilian, may be reluctant to report abuse due to concerns of loss of privacy, potential repercussions to the service member’s career, and the potential impact on the family’s financial security. Additionally, when military and/or civilian authorities fail to take appropriate action following a report of domestic violence, the abuse might happen again, and it could be worse. The possibility of retaliation can keep the victim from seeking help or reporting the domestic violence incident. DoD policy provides several reporting options and services to address these concerns and encourage victims to seek help, as outlined in Where could a victim report domestic violence within the military system?

The Family Advocacy Program and Confidentiality

What is the Family Advocacy Program (FAP)?

The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) is the Department of Defense (DoD) program designated to address domestic abuse, child abuse, and child neglect. The FAP works in coordination with key military departments and civilian agencies to prevent abuse, encourage early identification and prompt reporting, promote victim safety and empowerment, and provide appropriate treatment for affected service members and their families.

To find the FAP closest to you, search by zip code or military installation on the Military One Source website.

What happens after the FAP receives a report of abuse?

If you the victim report abuse to the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) and you choose for the report to be restricted, law enforcement and command will not be notified by the FAP and there will not usually be an official investigation of the allegation; there are, however, exceptions in cases of severe risk of immediate harm to the you or another person. To see what services the FAP will offer, go to I am experiencing abuse in my relationship. How do I go get help in the military system?

If someone other than the victim reports abuse to the FAP, it is considered an unrestricted (non-confidential) report. In this case, FAP clinical providers will talk to the victim and the abuser separately about the incident to determine the risk for further abuse, develop a safety plan, and recommend counseling or treatment options, if appropriate. An FAP counselor will also begin coordinating next steps with the victim’s command or the abuser’s command, and military law enforcement.

Next, information about the report will be presented by the FAP to an Incident Determination Committee (IDC). The IDC is made up of senior command in charge of the installation or garrison, the victim’s command and the abuser’s command, representatives from military law enforcement personnel, representatives of the Staff Judge Advocate, and the FAP. Following the FAP’s presentation of the domestic abuse incident(s), the IDC will vote to determine whether the incident(s) meet the criteria for an act, or failure to act, and a resulting impact, according to standards set by DoD policy. A team of FAP clinicians will then make recommendations for treatment for the abuser, if appropriate, which could include evidence-based offender treatment programs, psychological services, or both.

Note: The IDC is not a disciplinary or criminal proceeding. It is a clinical process to determine whether an incident of abuse meets the threshold for more rigorous treatment, intervention, support, safety planning, and victim protection.1 A separate but parallel process may also take place involving military law enforcement and the Staff Judge Advocate to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic abuse that involve acts of violence, a threat of violence, or the violation of a protective order.

1 See Department of Defense Manual 6400.01, Volume 3 (FAP: Clinical Case Staff Meeting and Incident Determination Committee), August 11, 2016.

If I report domestic abuse, could my report affect the abuser’s job?

If you make a restricted (confidential) report to the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), this generally will not negatively impact a service member’s career because the report stays within the FAP; however, the report may go beyond the FAP if there is a severe risk of immediate harm to the victim or another person.

Even if an unrestricted (non-confidential) report is made and the abuser’s command is notified, command will typically support service members who stop abusive behavior, follow treatment recommendations, and work to achieve more positive relationships. With FAP assistance and treatment, many service members can make the long-term changes necessary to avoid future abusive behavior and continue a successful military service.

However, service members who fail to stop abusive behavior, refuse to comply with treatment plans, or cause serious injury to a spouse, partner, or family member may face administrative discharge or court martial. These decisions are determined by the service member’s chain of command and the military justice system.

Removal of Guns

Will the military take away the abuser's firearms?

If the abuser has a misdemeanor or felony conviction for domestic violence in a civilian court, or a conviction for domestic violence at a general or special court-martial, then the military can:

  • remove any government-issued firearms and ammunition; and
  • suspend the abuser’s authority to possess government-issued firearms and ammunition.

This applies if the abuser is a member of the military or a civilian employee of the military.

The military will not take away firearms for:

  • summary court-martial convictions;
  • deferred prosecutions in civilian court;
  • determinations of “met criteria” abuse by the FAP Incident Determination Committee (IDC); or
  • nonjudicial punishment, including a military protective order (MPO).

Note: Commanders can use their authority to limit the abuser’s access to firearms, but an MPO does not legally require the commander to do so.1

If you have obtained an MPO and you are concerned about the abuser’s access to firearms, you can work with your FAP victim advocate to create a safety plan to reduce your risk. You may also want to file for a civil protection order (CPO) which can make it illegal for the abuser to have firearms.

1 See Department of Defense Instruction 6400.06, May 26, 2017, Enclosure 2

Getting Other Help

If I leave my spouse/partner due to domestic abuse, is there any financial compensation available to me through the military?

If you are no longer living with your spouse, you might qualify for the Transitional Compensation (TC) Program. The TC Program provides for financial, medical, dental, commissary (grocery), and exchange (other goods/products) privileges to eligible dependents of service members when the member has been separated from the military due to domestic abuse or a child abuse offense.

You may be eligible for transitional compensation if:

  1. the service member has served at least 30 days on active duty;
  2. you are no longer living with your spouse;
  3. you were married to, or you are the family member of, a service member;
  4. you were living with your spouse when the abuse occurred; and
  5. one of the following is true:
  • the service member has been administratively separated from active duty due to abuse of a family member; or
    • the service member was convicted by court-martial of an abuse offense and either:
      • s/he is separated from active duty after the conviction; or
      • s/he is sentenced to forfeiture of all pay and allowances.1

The payments are made once a month for 12-36 months and will begin on the date when:

  • the administrative separation starts;
  • the court-martial sentence is given; or
  • the court-martial pre-trial agreement is approved.1

You will no longer be eligible to receive transitional compensation benefits if:

  • you remarry;
  • you resume living with the service member;
  • the abuser’s conviction is reduced to a lower punishment; or
  • the administrative separation is revoked (canceled).1

If the commander is considering separating your spouse from the military, you may want to check with your FAP victim advocate to make sure the commander prepares the appropriate documentation for you to receive TC benefits. The FAP can also help you to find out what the monthly compensation amount will be for you and your family.

Note: Even if you do not qualify for the Transitional Compensation Program, military service regulations require service members to provide “adequate support,” which includes child support, to their family members.1 You can talk to the installation legal office for more information.

1 See DoD Instruction 1342.24, Transitional Compensation for Abused Dependents

If I am stationed overseas, where can I get help for domestic abuse?

Domestic violence victims may become more vulnerable when stationed overseas since there are likely to be fewer services available both on and off the installation. The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) does provide services outside of the United States, and a victim advocate is available at every military installation where families are assigned. You can find information about the FAP by searching for your installation online at the Military One Source website. In addition, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides online chat services 24/7, and can be a resource for immediate emotional support and safety planning. You can also find organizations that help victims overseas on our National Organizations – International page.

If your spouse/partner is a civilian, which includes government employees, civilian contractors, or family members of a military service member, the military can still take action against him/her if s/he commits a domestic violence felony. Your abusive civilian spouse/partner can be prosecuted as follows:

  • in a court in the host nation where you are stationed;
  • in a federal court in the U.S. if the host nation declines to prosecute; or
  • through the Uniform Code of Military Justice if the person harming you is a service member.

Note: If you are a civilian and your spouse is a service member who is being relocated overseas, the military does not require you to relocate overseas with him/her. In fact, families with histories of domestic abuse may be ruled out for overseas relocation because of increased vulnerability and reduced access to services. If you have relocated overseas already but you are a victim of abuse and feel your safety is at risk, you can request relocation to the United States through the “early return of dependents” option. The military may allow you to transport household items and a vehicle that is in your name or the service member’s name when you relocate.

Where can I find additional resources?

We list a lot of military-specific and veteran-specific resources on our National Organizations - Military page. For example, there is a link to the Department of Defense (“DoD”) Safe Helpline (877-995-5247), which offers crisis support service for members of the DoD (military) community affected by sexual assault. It provides live, one-on-one advice, support, and information to the worldwide DoD community over the phone or through a live-chat feature. The service is anonymous, secure, and available 24/7 – providing victims with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.

Military Protective Orders

This page includes information about military protective orders and how they protect victims on military installations. For help, please see the Military page in the National Organizations section of this website.

Basic Info about Military Protective Orders (MPOs)

What is a military protective order (MPO)?

A military protective order (MPO) is a tool that can be used by command to help keep you and/or your children safe if you have experienced domestic violence or child abuse by a service member. It doesn’t matter if you are a service member or a civilian. You, a victim advocate, an installation law enforcement agency, or Family Advocacy Program (FAP) clinician could be the one to ask the commander to issue an MPO.1

An MPO is only enforceable on the military base or installation and only while the service member is attached to the command that issued the order. When the service member is transferred to a new command, the order will no longer be valid.

The commander who issued the MPO is supposed to recommend to the new command that a new MPO is issued when the service member is transferred if an MPO is still necessary to protect the victim. Therefore, if you believe that an MPO is still necessary for your protection, be sure to contact the commander who issued the MPO or have your victim advocate or the FAP contact the commander on your behalf.

Who is I eligible to get a military protective order (MPO)?

You can file to request an MPO against an active duty member of the military who you believe has harmed you or your children and who is:

  • your spouse or ex-spouse;
  • your current or former intimate partner if you live(d) together; or
  • someone with whom you have a child in common.

An MPO will be ordered if the commander agrees to it.1

1 See Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017

What protections can I get in a military protective order (MPO)?

The MPO can say that the service member has to do certain things and can also prohibit certain behaviors. MPOs may order the abuser (referred to as “the subject”) to:

  • have no contact or communication with you or members of the your family or household, including:
  • face-to-face;
  • by telephone;
  • in writing;
  • by email;
  • through social media; or
  • through a third party;
  • stay away from the family home, whether it is on or off the installation;
  • stay away from your children’s schools, child development centers, youth programs, and your place of employment;
  • move into government quarters (barracks);
  • leave any public place if you are in the same location or facility;
  • do certain activities or stop doing certain activities;
  • attend counseling; and
  • surrender his/her government-issued weapons.1

Commanders may tailor the order to meet your specific needs so be sure to let the commander know what would best protect you.1

Civilian abusers are not subject to MPOs. They may only be subject to a civil protection order (CPO) issued by a state or tribal court. However, a commanding officer can bar the civilian abuser from the installation, which could help to protect you if you live on the installation.1

Make sure that you get a copy of the MPO from the commanding officer so that you are aware of restrictions placed on the service member. It is important you have it with you at all times.

1 See Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017

How long does an MPO last?

MPOs are generally short-term and can last as little as ten days, but can be longer, if needed.1 An MPO is generally issued initially for the period of time that it will take the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) to gather details for the commander about the abuse and the relevant history involving you and the abuser. The MPO may be extended based on ongoing concerns of risk or threats to you.

The victim advocate at your installation will know how long it generally takes for the FAP to provide the commander with complete assessment results. If you can get that information from the victim advocate, you may want to ask the commander to take that timeframe into account when issuing the MPO.

Your MPO may or may not have an expiration date. However, whether it has an expiration date or not, the commanding officer may review the MPO at any time to change or rescind (end) it.1

Also, keep in mind that an MPO is only enforceable while the service member is attached to the command that issued the order. When the service member is transferred to a new command, the order will no longer be valid. A new MPO would have to be issued by the new command.

1Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017

Getting and enforcing a military protective order (MPO)

What are the steps for getting an MPO?

The best place to start is usually with the Family Advocate Program (FAP) victim advocate on the installation but any of the following people can ask the commander to issue a military protective order (MPO):

  • a victim of abuse;
  • a victim advocate;
  • installation law enforcement; or
  • a Family Advocacy Program (FAP) clinician.

You can visit the FAP locator on the Military One Source website for FAP contact information. To read more about the process for getting an MPO issued, go to What will the process be like for getting an MPO? Will I have to be in the same room as the abuser?

Once an MPO is issued, it should be written and you should receive a copy of the MPO from the commander. Be sure to ask for a written copy if you don’t receive one.

The military police, the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office, the Military Criminal Investigative Organization, or the FAP are all resources you can contact for guidance. For more information on how to get help for domestic abuse, go to I am experiencing abuse in my relationship. How do I get help in the military system?

What will the process be like for getting an MPO? Will I have to be in the same room as the abuser?

Unlike civil court, there is no trial or hearing when you get a military protective order (MPO). Therefore, you will not have to appear in front of a judge, testify in front of the abuser, or even be in the same room as him/her.

The commander is the one who decides whether or not to issue an MPO. The commander may or may not meet with you before issuing the MPO. Often times, the victim advocate or the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) clinician may call the commander on your behalf to ask for the MPO. If you feel it is important to speak with the commander directly, you may contact their office to request an appointment. The appointment may take place in the commander’s office, at the FAP office, or another place where you can feel safe to speak freely to the commander. If the commander has a reasonable belief that an MPO is necessary for your safety, s/he will issue one.

How much does an MPO cost?

There is no cost to file for or get a military protective order (MPO).

What can I do if I am not granted an MPO?

Usually, commanders will issue a military protective order (MPO) if the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) recommends it as part of its safety and risk assessment. However, if you are not granted an MPO, you may still be eligible for a civil protection order issued by the civil court in the state where you live.

Unlike civil protection order proceedings, there is no appeals process in the military if you are denied an MPO or if you disagree with the decision of the commanding officer. You may seek assistance in a variety of ways if the MPO is denied, and you may continue to inform the commander of further abuse, but you cannot “appeal” the decision.

Visit our Restraining Orders page to find out if you may be eligible for a civil protection order.

What can I do if the abuser violates the MPO?

If the abuser violates the MPO while s/he is on the installation, you can call the military police (the Installation Law Enforcement Office). If you are off the installation and you are in danger, you can call 911 to reach the civilian police. Although the police cannot enforce the MPO, they can arrest the abuser if a crime is committed. You can also ask the civilian police to contact Installation Law Enforcement regarding the violation of the MPO. Installation Law Enforcement will then notify the service member’s commander.1 You may also want to contact your Family Advocacy Program (FAP) victim advocate to report the violation of the MPO, as this may suggest that the level of risk for further abuse has increased.

An MPO is only enforceable on the military base or installation and only while the service member is attached to the command that issued the order. When the service member is transferred to a new command, the order will no longer be valid.

A violation of an MPO on the installation is the same as disobeying a direct order, which is a serious offense within the military. The abuser can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – under Article 92, Failure to Obey Order or Regulation. Depending on a number of factors, a violation of an MPO may result in non-judicial punishment, court-martial proceedings, or other disciplinary measures.

For information on what happens if the service member violates the MPO off of the installation, go to Are MPOs and civil protection orders (CPOs) valid wherever I go?

1Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017

Military Protective Orders and Civil Protective Orders

What are the major differences between a military protective order and a civilian protection order?

In both the military and civilian justice systems, you can seek a protection order requiring the abuser to stay away from you, your children, your home, your workplace, your school, and to not commit any violent acts against you. Civil protection orders have different names in the various states, but the military protective orders (MPOs) are consistently called that among all the Services. You can have both an MPO and a civil protection order (CPO) at the same time.

However, the procedure for getting an MPO and a CPO and how long the orders may last are quite different in both systems. There is no “due process” for issuing an MPO, which means that the abuser does not have to be served with notice, does not have the right to a hearing, and does not have the right to testify. Therefore, the order is typically short-term. A short-term MPO may be a challenge when the parties share custody of minor children. If you are concerned for the safety of your children while you seek safety from domestic violence, be sure to work with your victim advocate to address this issue. Commanders can tailor MPOs to the specific needs of victims, and they even have the authority to order the service member to not contact your children.

Are MPOs and civil protective orders (CPOs) valid wherever I go?

Whether or not an order is enforceable wherever you go depends on the type of order.

Military Protective Orders

An MPO will not be directly enforced off the installation by civil courts or civilian police. The civilian police may, however, contact the military law enforcement to refer the case to them for further action. Regardless of whether there is a law enforcement response at the time of the incident, it can still be a violation of a command order to violate an MPO off the installation. The commander can, but does not have to, discipline the service member for a violation that takes place off of the installation.1 However, violations that take place on the installation can have serious consequences. See What can I do if the abuser violates the MPO? for more information.

Civil Protection Orders

A CPO is enforceable on the military installation. According to military rules, service members are supposed to follow a CPO even while on the installation. Commanders and law enforcement officers are supposed to take all reasonable measures necessary to ensure that a CPO is given full force and effect on all installations. Active duty service members who fail to follow a CPO may be subject to administrative and/or disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The civil court judge who issued the CPO can also punish the abuser for a violation of the CPO even if it occurred on base. Also, civilians who violate a CPO, including Department of Defense civilian employees, may be barred from the installation.

1Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017

Do I need both an MPO and a civil protective order?

It may be a good idea to try to get both a military protective order (MPO) and a civil protection order (CPO) so that you are protected as much as possible. Many military families live off of the installation. Even those who do live on the installation will frequently leave it to shop, attend school, work, visit friends, or go to restaurants. Given the limitations on MPO enforcement off the installation, and the fact that the MPO cannot limit the purchase of a firearm by the service member, it may be best to consider seeking a civil protection order (CPO) as well as an MPO.

If you already have a CPO, you can still ask for an MPO and vice versa. The terms of an MPO cannot go against (contradict) the terms of a CPO. In fact, an MPO could possibly place more restrictions on the abuser than a CPO. Also, an MPO could apply to the service member even while s/he is overseas, unlike a CPO.1

Victim advocates in the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) and in a local civilian domestic violence agency can both be helpful in explaining the process for applying for a CPO in your area. You can also talk to a lawyer off the installation to see if you are eligible for a CPO and to possibly get representation in the court hearing. For legal referrals, go to our Finding a Lawyer page and enter your state into the drop-down menu. For information on how to prepare for a CPO hearing, go to our Preparing Your Case page.

1Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, Incorporating Change 4, May 26, 2017