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 (a “DVPO”). 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 (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.
If the abuser has any firearms, be sure to alert the court so the firearms can be removed from the abuser’s possession. If you have children, you may also want to check the box asking for temporary custody. For more information on custody, see our Custody page.
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. Note: Hearings held to consider an ex parte temporary protective order may be held via video conference.1 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 10 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.2
You must return to the courthouse to see a judge to get an ex parte order that will last for up to 10 days, until you can have a full court hearing. Whether the judge or magistrate grants you an ex parte order or not, you will be given a court date for a full court “hearing” within 10 days. This hearing will be in front of a judge at the time shown on the Notice of Hearing. At this hearing, your abuser and you will both have a chance to explain your sides to the judge.
1 NCGS § 50B-2(e)
2 NCGS § 50B-2(c1)
Step 3: Take the forms to the sheriff's department.
If the clerk does not do this for you, you may have to take the appropriate forms to the sheriff’s department so they can serve the defendant with the summons, complaint, and 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: Preparing for the domestic violence protective order hearing.
As the plaintiff requesting a DVPO, you must prove that the defendant has committed acts of domestic violence (as defined by the law) against you or your children.
See the Preparing Your Case 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 (more time) to find a lawyer, the continuance will be limited to one extension of no more than 10 days unless all parties consent or you can show “good cause” for extending it longer.1
1 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)
Step 5: Attend the hearing.
On the day of the hearing, you must go to the hearing to ask to have your ex parte order (good only for up to 10 days) turned into a DVPO, which will last for up to one year. 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. Note: Unlike ex parte hearings, a hearing for a final domestic violence protective order cannot be held via video conference.1
You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. You can also represent yourself. If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. However, the continuance will be limited to one extension of no more than 10 days unless all parties consent or you can show “good cause” for extending it longer.2 Go to our NC Finding a Lawyer page to find help in your area.
1 NCGS § 50B-2(e)
2 NCGS § 50B-2(c)(5)