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Legal Information: Kentucky

Kentucky Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of November 15, 2023

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Kentucky?

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a protective order. Kentucky law defines “domestic violence and abuse” as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between “family members” or “members of an unmarried couple:”

  1. causing physical injury or serious physical injury;
  2. committing sexual assault, which includes any degree of rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse, and incest;
  3. committing assault;
  4. committing stalking;
  5. committing strangulation, which is defined as the actions described in the crimes of strangulation in the first degree or strangulation in the second degree or a criminal attempt, conspiracy, facilitation, or solicitation to commit the crime of strangulation; 
  6. putting you in fear of immediate physical injury, serious physical injury, sexual abuse, strangulation, or assault;
  7. committing cruelty to animals in the 1st or 2nd degree;
  8. torturing a dog or cat
  9. committing sexual crimes against an animal; or
  10. making you fear that the acts listed in numbers 7, 8, and 9 will immediately be committed against a domestic animal with which you have a close bond in order to coerce, control, punish, intimidate you or to get revenge against you.1

Note: “Members of an unmarried couple” only include dating partners who live(d) together or who have a child together.2 See Who can get a protective order? for more information.

1 KRS § 403.720(2), (9)
2 KRS § 403.720(6)

What types of protective orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of orders, emergency protective orders and domestic violence orders.

An emergency protective order (EPO) can be issued without prior notice to the abuser (ex parte) if the judge believes there is an immediate and present danger of domestic violence and abuse.1 Generally an EPO lasts for 14 days until your hearing for a domestic violence order.2 If law enforcement is unable to serve the abuser prior to the hearing, the judge can postpone the court date and extend your EPO for another 14 days. The EPO can be extended multiple times over a six-month period while law enforcement attempts service. However, at the end of the six-month period, if the respondent cannot be located to be served, the emergency protective order will be dismissed “without prejudice,” which means you could re-file.3

A domestic violence order (DVO) can only be issued after you have had a full court hearing where you and the abuser both have the opportunity to tell your sides of the story to a judge. If the judge believes that domestic violence or abuse has occurred and may happen again, s/he can issue a DVO.4 You must attend the DVO hearing. If you do not, your EPO may expire and you will have to start the process over. A DVO can last for up to three years. You may also extend your DVO for additional three year-year period(s).5 See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information on this process.

Note: EPOs and domestic violence orders are not enforceable until they have been served on the abuser or until the abuser has been given oral notice by law enforcement or by the court about the existence of the order and what its terms are.6

1 KRS § 403.730(2)(a)
2 KRS § 403.730(1)(a)
3 KRS § 403.735(2)
4 KRS § 403.740(1)
5 KRS § 403.740(4)
6 KRS § 403.745(1)

What protections can I get in an emergency protective order and a domestic violence order?

An emergency protective order (EPO) can do the following:

  1. order the abuser to not commit acts of domestic violence and abuse against you;
  2. order the abuser to not contact you or anyone else specified in the order, including contact that is made face-to-face, by telephone, in writing, electronic, through a third party, etc.;
  3. order the abuser to stay up to 500 feet away from you or anyone else specified in the order;
  4. order the abuser to not come within a certain distance of a specific home, school, or place of employment;
  5. order the abuser to not sell or destroy any of your property or any property you share with him/her;
  6. order the abuser to leave the home you share;
  7. give you temporary custody of your children;
  8. specifically state which communications are allowed and which communications are not allowed;
  9. allow either party to get his/her personal belongings from the home and order law enforcement to assist, if requested; and
  10. order any other protections necessary to eliminate future domestic violence.1

A domestic violence order (DVO) can include:

  • the protections listed above in numbers 1 - 8; and
  • the judge can also do the following:
    • give you temporary child support; 
    • order that either or both of you receive counseling services available in the community;
    • give you possession of any shared domestic animal;
    • if you request it, allow limited contact or communication between you and the abuser; and
    • if you request it, allow you and the abuser to be in a common area together under limited circumstances with specific restrictions laid out by the judge.2

Note: After a final DVO is issued, it’s possible to file a motion to amend it to request that the abuser wear a GPS device. The judge can grant your request if the abuser has committed a serious violation of a prior domestic violence order and if the judge believes that the GPS device would increase your safety.3

1 KRS § 403.730(2)(a); see also the petition on the Kentucky Courts website
2 KRS § 403.740(1)
3 KRS § 403.761(1)

In what county do I file for the protective order?

You can file for an emergency protective order or a domestic violence order in the county where you live or a county to which you have fled in order to escape abuse.1 However, 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. A petition can be filed in district court, circuit court, or family court.2

1 KRS § 403.725(2)
2 KRS § 403.725(6)(a)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.