Step 1: Go to the courthouse to file your petition.
Orders of protection may be filed in justice court, city court, municipal court, or district courts in the county in which you live or to which you have fled to escape abuse. However, if there is a pending divorce or custody case or the respondent lives in another state, you may only be able to file in district court. However, if there is a divorce or custody action pending in district court you may request an order of protection in justice, city, or municipal court if the judge handling your divorce or custody case is unavailable, or you left the county where the abuse occurred in order to escape the abuse. In such cases, you must provide a copy of the relevant district court documents to the court when the petition is filed.1
You can find the court in your area by going to our MT Courthouse Locations page. Tell the clerk of civil court that you want to file for an order of protection. Forms may also be obtained from many domestic violence agencies and many agencies have people available to help you through this process. Please see MT Advocates and Shelters to find an agency near you.
1 See, for example, Cascade County’s order of protection petition / instructions
Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms.
Read the instructions and the petition carefully and ask questions to the clerk or to an advocate who may be helping you fill out the papers if you don’t understand something. You will be the “petitioner” and the abuser is the “respondent.”
Follow the instructions provided in the petition to describe your circumstances to the court. In the space provided, describe in detail how the abuser (respondent) injured or threatened you. Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred. Write about the most recent incidents of violence, using descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Be specific.
Include details and dates, if you can.
Some courts will provide an instruction form for you to fill out that advises law enforcement how to find the abuser to serve him/her with an order of protection. If you are provided such a form, fill it out as completely as possible.
Do not sign the application until you have shown it to a clerk. The form must be signed in front of a notary public or a judge. There are notaries and judges at the courthouse. .
Step 3: A judge will review your petition.
After you finish filling out your petition, and have signed it in front of a notary or judge, bring it to the court clerk. The clerk will forward it to a judge. The judge may wish to ask you questions as s/he reviews your petition.
If the judge decides that you are in immediate danger of harm, s/he will issue a temporary order of protection that will include a notice of hearing that sets a date for a court hearing to determine whether or not a final order of protection should be granted. You will be given a copy of the temporary order of protection and notice of hearing.
Step 4: Service of process
The respondent must be served with the temporary order of protection so that s/he knows s/he is prohibited from certain activities and so s/he knows about the hearing and has an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. Usually the court will send copies of the temporary order to law enforcement for service, but in some areas you may have to bring the papers to law enforcement yourself. You can ask the court clerk for more information about serving the abuser. For a list of Sheriff Departments in your area, go to our MT Sheriff Departments page.
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 hearing
A hearing will be generally be held within 20 days from the date you file your petition.1 At the hearing, a judge will decide whether or not to issue a final order of protection, which may be permanent or for a specified amount of time.
The abuser may request an emergency hearing before the end of the 20-day period by filing an affidavit stating that s/he has an urgent need for the emergency hearing. An emergency hearing is like a regular hearing, but it’s scheduled for an earlier date. An emergency hearing must be set within 3 working days of the filing of the affidavit.2 You will be notified if an emergency hearing is scheduled.
You must go to the hearing, whether it is an emergency hearing or the scheduled hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order of protection will expire and you will have to start the process over. Also, if you do not show up at the hearing, it may be more difficult for you to obtain an order in the future.
At the court hearing, the judge will evaluate any evidence, testimony and witnesses presented by each party and decide whether or not to issue the final order.
If the abuser shows up to the hearing with a lawyer, you may be able to ask the court for a “continuance,” which means a later court date. You can ask for this extra time so that you can try to find a lawyer to help you. If the abuser does not show up at the hearing, the judge may grant you a final order of protection, or the judge may order a new hearing date.
1 Mont. Code § 40-15-201
2 Mont. Code § 40-15-202(2)