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Legal Information: North Carolina

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of December 22, 2023

Step 1: Go to the courthouse to get and file the necessary forms.

During business hours, go to the clerk of civil court; otherwise, go to the magistrate’s office. Tell the clerk or the magistrate that you want to file for a domestic violence protective order.. If you need the emergency protection of an ex parte temporary order, also tell the clerk you need an ex parte order.  To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on NC Courthouse Locations.

You can get the forms you need from the clerk or you can get the forms beforehand online on our Download Court Forms page.

On the complaint, you will be the “plaintiff” and the abuser will be the “defendant.” In the space provided, write about the most recent incidents of violence, using specific language, such as slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc., that fits your situation.  Include details and dates, if possible.  Clerks and magistrates can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write. Do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk.


Step 2: You can ask for an ex parte temporary order for immediate protection.

If you need immediate protection, you can check the box on the complaint to ask for an ex parte order. An ex parte order is a temporary emergency order that a judge can grant you if you or your child are in immediate danger. The abuser will not be notified beforehand that you are asking the judge for an ex parte order.

If the judge believes you or your children are in serious and immediate danger, s/he may give you an ex parte order which is good for ten days, until your full court hearing. If you are there after business hours, some magistrates may give you an ex parte order which is good only until the case is heard by a judge, which should occur by the end of the next day on which the court is in session in the county.You would then return to the courthouse to see a judge to get an ex parte order. Whether the judge or magistrate grants you an ex parte order or not, you may be given a court date for a full court hearing within ten days. This hearing will be in front of a judge at the time shown on the Notice of Hearing. At this hearing, you and the abuser will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge.

1 NCGS § 50B-2(c1)

Step 3: Service of process

The abuser will have to be served with the summons, complaint, notice of hearing, and the ex parte order if one was granted. Counties do this differently. In some counties the clerk of courts sends the forms to the sheriff; in other counties, the plaintiff has to take the forms to the sheriff. Please contact your local domestic violence program or the clerk of court to find out the way it is handled in your county.

You will have to provide some contact information for the defendant so the sheriff can find him/her. You may want to give the sheriff a picture of the defendant and any information you have that will help them locate him/her. The defendant must receive notice of the hearing from the sheriff. If the defendant does not receive notice, the hearing will be rescheduled. In addition, if an ex parte order was granted, the defendant must be served with the order for it to be in effect and be enforced.

Step 4: The hearing

As the plaintiff requesting a DVPO, you must prove that the defendant has committed one or more acts of domestic violence as defined by the law. If you do not go to the hearing, your ex parte order will expire. If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a DVPO or may reschedule the hearing.

See the At the Hearing section for ways you can show the judge that you were abused. You can learn more about the court system in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section. It is generally recommended to have an attorney at the hearing. If you need to ask the judge for a continuance to find a lawyer, the continuance will be limited to one extension of no more than ten days unless all parties consent or you can show “good cause” for extending it longer.1

1 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)