WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Federal

Domestic Violence in the Military

View all
Updated: 
October 9, 2019

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. It is at the commander’s discretion how to discipline a service member for an MPO violation that takes place off of the installation.1 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.

1 Department 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.

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