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Legal Information: North Carolina

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of December 22, 2023

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in North Carolina?

This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a domestic violence protective order (DVPO). Domestic violence in North Carolina is when someone you have had a “personal relationship” with does any of the following to you or your minor child:

  • attempts to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causes bodily injury;
  • places you or a member of your family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
  • commits continued harassment, as defined by law, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
  • commits any rape or sexual offense listed here in sections 14-27.21 through 14-27.33.1

If you have not had a “personal relationship” with the abuser, harasser or stalker, you may be eligible for a civil no-contact order.

1 NCGS § 50B-1(a)

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

In North Carolina, there are two types of domestic violence protective orders:

  1. ex parte temporary protective orders; and
  2. final domestic violence protective orders, also called a DVPO or a 50B order.

An ex parte temporary protective order is a court order designed to provide you and your family members with immediate protection from the abuser. A judge may issue an ex parte order the same day you file your complaint for a domestic violence protective order without the abuser present if s/he believes that there is a serious and immediate danger to you or your child. If the judge does not issue the ex parte order on the same day, the court must hear the request for an ex parte order within 72 hours or by the end of the next day on which the court is in session in the county of the filing, whichever occurs first.1

An ex parte temporary protective order will protect you until your full court hearing takes place, usually within ten days from when the order is granted or within seven days from the date the respondent is served, whichever occurs later.1Note: The ex parte order will not be able to be enforced until the defendant is served with a copy of the order.

A final domestic violence protective order, also called a DVPO or a 50B order, lasts up to one year. You can ask the court to extend the order for an additional two years, with the exception of the custody provisions, but you must do so before it expires.2 (See How do I modify or extend my order?) Before the order is issued, you will have to have a full court hearing to get a final domestic violence protective order. In this hearing, the abuser will have a chance to defend himself/herself.

1 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)
2 NCGS § 50B-3(b)

What protections can I get in an ex parte temporary protective order?

The law says that a judge can include whatever protections s/he believes are necessary to protect you or your child from domestic violence,1 which could include the protections listed in What protections can I get in a domestic violence protective order (DVPO)?  However, the judge can only include a custody provision in an ex parte temporary protective order if the judge believes that the child is exposed to a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury or sexual abuse.In that case, the judge can order the following:

  • that the respondent stay away from the child;
  • that the respondent return the child to your custody; or
  • any other measures to protect the safety and well-being of you and your child, such as supervised visitation.3

1 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(1)
2 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(2)
2 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(3), (c)(4)

What protections can I get in a domestic violence protective order (DVPO)?

A DVPO can:

  • order the abuser not to assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass, or interfere with you and your children in person, at work, on the telephone, or by other means;
  • allow you to live in the home where you and the abuser have lived together and order the abuser to move out and not return, no matter who owns the home or is on the lease;
  • order the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for you;
  • tell the police to remove the abuser from the home and help you to return to the home;
  • give you possession of personal property including a car and household goods, except for the abuser’s personal belongings;
  • order the abuser to stay away from any place you request including your school, your children’s school, your work place, your friends’ homes, or any place where you are seeking shelter;
  • order the abuser not to cruelly treat or abuse a pet owned or held by you, the abuser, or a minor child living in the home;
  • give you possession of any pet owned or held by you, the abuser, or a minor child living in the home;
  • give you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation;
  • order your spouse to pay temporary spousal support;
  • order the abuser to hand over any firearms and prohibit the abuser from purchasing a firearm;
  • order the abuser to attend an abuser’s treatment program;
  • order the abuser to pay attorney’s fees; and
  • order the abuser to do anything else you ask for and the judge agrees to.1

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

1 NCGS § 50B-3

In which county can I file for a protective order?

You can file a petition in the county where you live permanently or temporarily, or in the county where the abuser lives.1

1 NCGS § 1-82

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.