What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Missouri?
This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting an order of protection.
For the purpose of filing for an order of protection, domestic violence is when a family or household member:
- commits stalking; or
- commits, attempts to commit, or threatens to commit abuse, which is defined as any of the following acts:1
- assault: purposely placing or attempting to place you in fear of physical harm;
- battery: purposely causing physical harm to you with or without a deadly weapon;
- coercion: using force or a threat of force to make you do something or to stop you from doing something;
- harassment: committing acts (more than once) that causes you or your child alarm or substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose; for example:
- following you or your child in a public place;
- peering in the window or lingering outside your home;
- sexual assault: causing or attempting to cause you to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, duress (coercion/pressure), or without your consent;
- unlawful imprisonment: holding, confining, detaining or abducting you against your will; or
- abusing a pet: purposely causing, attempting to cause, or threatening to cause physical injury to a pet with the intent to control, punish, intimidate you or cause you distress.2
Stalking is defined as when someone purposely acts in a way that reasonably causes you alarm and that serves no legitimate purpose. The actions must occur two or more times and can include, but are not limited to, when the stalker directly, indirectly, or through a third party follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates with you. This includes if the stalker uses a device, such as a GPS tracker or other technology.3
1 MO ST §§ 455.010(5); 455.020(1)
2 MO ST § 455.010(1)
3 MO ST § 455.010(15)
What types of orders of protection are there? How long do they last?
There are two types of orders:
1) Ex parte orders of protection - Ex parte is Latin for “from one side.” A judge can grant you an ex parte order if you prove there is “good cause” to do so. “Good cause” can be when the judge believes there is an immediate and present danger of abuse to you.1 A judge may grant you the order based solely on your petition and testimony, without holding a hearing. Ex parte orders may be granted without the abuser’s prior knowledge and without his/her presence in court.
An ex parte order generally will be valid until your court hearing for a full order of protection, which usually takes place within 15 days.2 If you desire, you can receive a notification when the ex parte order is served on the abuser.3 Ask the clerk for information on how to get this notification.
If you ask for an ex parte order but the judge doesn’t give you one, you may get a “Notice of Hearing” instead. Although this is not an order protecting you, it does mean you have a date and time for a hearing, where the judge will decide whether or not to grant you a full order of protection. To get a full order of protection, you will need to prove your allegations of domestic violence to the judge.
2) Full orders of protection - A full order of protection can be issued only after a court hearing in which you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story. If the judge grants you an order, it will usually last for a period of time between 180 days and one year. However, it can last between two years and ten years if the judge issues specific written findings that the abuser poses a serious danger to your or your child’s physical or mental health, which the judge will decide after considering the following factors:
- the strength (weight) of the evidence;
- the abuser’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, or assault;
- the abuser’s history of stalking or causing fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault on you or your child;
- the abuser’s criminal record, including whether s/he has been found guilty of any dangerous felony under Missouri law;
- whether any prior full orders of adult or child protection have been issued against the abuser;
- whether the abuser violated any term or terms of probation or parole; and
- whether the abuser violated any term of a prior full or temporary order of protection, especially those that were specifically intended to protect you or your child.2
Orders of protection can be set to automatically renew or a petitioner can file to renew it each time it is set to expire.4 For more information, see How do I renew, change, or dismiss an order of protection?
1 MO ST § 455.035(1)
2 MO ST § 455.040(1), (4)
3 MO ST § 455.038
4 MO ST § 455.040(2), (3)
What protections can I get in an order of protection due to domestic violence?
An ex parte order of protection can do the following:
- forbid the abuser from committing or threatening to commit domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, molesting you or disturbing your peace, including violence against a pet;
- forbid the abuser from entering your home when it is:
- jointly owned, leased or rented or jointly occupied by you and the abuser; or
- owned, leased, rented or occupied by you individually; or
- jointly owned, leased or rented by you and someone else (not the abuser); or
- jointly occupied by you and someone else (not the abuser) as long as the abuser does not have a property interest in the home;
- forbid the abuser from communicating with you in any manner or through any medium (i.e., phone, computer, etc.);
- make a temporary order of custody of your minor children where appropriate;
- make a temporary order of possession of pets where appropriate;1 and/or
- include such other terms as the judge reasonably believes are necessary to ensure your safety.2
A full order of protection (after notice to the abuser and a hearing) can:
- include all of the terms listed above; and
- order any of the following (as long as your petition has facts/allegations relating to these topics and your petition specifically asks for them):3
- award custody of any minor child born to or adopted by the parties when:
- the court has jurisdiction (power) over such child;
- no prior order regarding custody is pending or has been made; and
- the best interests of the child require that a custody order be issued;
- establish a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of the child;
- order the abuser to pay child support;
- order the abuser to pay spousal support (maintenance) for up to 180 days if you are legally married;4
- if you are married to or have children together, the judge can order the abuser to make rent or mortgage payments on the home in which you are living or on a different home (rather than the one you lived in with the abuser) if you choose;
- order you to have possession and care of any pet, along with any money necessary to cover medical costs that may have resulted from abuse of the pet;
- give you temporary possession of personal property, such as cars, checkbooks, keys, and other personal items;
- prohibit the abuser from transferring, selling or getting rid of property mutually owned or leased by you and the abuser;
- order the abuser to participate in batterers’ counseling or drug treatment;
- order the abuser to pay a reasonable fee for housing and other services that are/were provided to you by a domestic violence shelter;
- order the abuser to pay court costs;
- order the abuser to pay the cost of medical treatment and services that are/were provided to you as a result of injuries due to domestic violence committed by the abuser;5
- order the abuser to pay your attorney’s fees;6 and/or
- direct a wireless service provider to transfer the rights to, and billing responsibility for, any wireless service (cell phone) number(s) that you or any minor children in your care use, if you are not already the account holder.7
- award custody of any minor child born to or adopted by the parties when:
1 MO ST § 455.045
2 MO ST § 455.050(1)
3 MO ST § 455.050(4)
4 MO ST § 455.050(8)
5 MO ST § 455.050(3)
6 MO ST § 455.075
7 MO ST §§ 455.050(9)(1); 455.523(2)(9)
How will the judge decide custody and visitation in a full order of protection?
If the court makes a custody decision in a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge should assume that it is in the child’s best interests for the non-abusive parent to get custody. If there is evidence that both parents have been abusive to each other, the judge will not make this assumption. Instead, the judge can appoint a guardian ad litem or a court-appointed special advocate to represent the child and will consider all other factors that are normally considered in a custody case.1
When deciding visitation in a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge should give the non-custodial parent visitation rights unless the judge believes that one of the following is true:
- visitation would endanger the child’s physical health;
- visitation would negatively affect the child’s emotional development;
- visitation would otherwise conflict with the best interests of the child; or
- that it is not possible to have visitation and still be able to protect the custodial parent from further abuse.2
The court may appoint a guardian ad litem or court-appointed special advocate to represent the minor child whenever the custodial parent alleges that visitation with the noncustodial parent will damage the minor child.2
Note: An order of protection cannot change the custody of children when an action for dissolution of marriage (divorce) has been filed or when a judge has previously awarded custody to a parent.3
1 MO ST § 455.050(5)
2 MO ST § 455.050(6)
3 MO ST § 455.060(6)
In which county can I file for an order of protection?
You can file a petition in the county where you live, in the county where the domestic violence took place, or in any county where the defendant can be served with the petition.1 Note: The order of protection can be issued in a Missouri court even if you are in Missouri on a temporary basis as long as the domestic violence has occurred, has been attempted, or has been threatened within the state of Missouri. If there was additional domestic violence that happened outside of Missouri, you can include these incidents as a way to demonstrate your need for protection.2
1 MO ST § 455.015
2 MO ST § 455.032
How much does it cost to get an order of protection? Do I need a lawyer?
There are no fees to you for filing for an order of protection due to domestic violence.1 After a hearing for a full order of protection, the judge could order the respondent (the abuser) to pay court costs.2 Also, the judge could order the abuser to pay your attorney’s fees.3
You do not need an attorney to file for an order of protection, but it may be better to have one if you can, especially if you think the abuser will have one. You can find free and paid legal referrals on our MO Finding a Lawyer page.
In many places, local domestic violence or sexual assault programs and/or clerks’ offices can help you file for an order of protection. You will find a list of places that might be able to help you on the MO Advocates and Shelters page. You will find contact info for court clerks at the MO Courthouse Locations page.
1 MO ST § 455.027
2 MO ST § 455.050(3)
3 MO ST § 455.075
If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.
Can I get an order of protection when the courthouse is closed?
Yes. When the circuit court is unavailable after business hours or on holidays or weekends, you can file a petition for an order of protection (or a motion for a hearing on a violation of any order of protection) before any available court in the city or county having jurisdiction to hear the petition and an ex parte order of protection can be issued.1 During hours when the circuit court is closed, a clerk and judge must be on call to process petitions in cases of emergency. In St. Louis City and County, the filing is done at a police station when the courthouse is closed. In some of the outlying counties, it is done by the Sheriff’s Dept. Go to MO Sheriff Departments to find the one in your county.
MO ST § 455.030(1)
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.